Recycling in the Ribbley Valley with Chatburn resident Sylvia Hopwood

PUBLISHED: 20:51 24 December 2009 | UPDATED: 15:00 20 February 2013

Sylvia's office wall is
covered with pictures of
youngsters, including her

Sylvia's office wall is covered with pictures of youngsters, including her grandchildren

SYLVIA Hopwood's life has been lived backwards. At an age when most people are thinking of spending more time with their slippers, she got her first job.

Sylvia was born in Lytham but she spent 30 years living in Clitheroe, interrupted only by a spell at school in Kent where she tried to resist having a 'la-di-dah' accent drummed in.

She married a military man, but tragedy struck at a young age when he was killed in a riding accident. 'I'd brought up our children but I'd never had a job in my life,' says Sylvia, whose slight frame belies a granite determination.

Sylvia decided to found a company at her then home in the village of Chatburn making products which would help the environment and keep her solvent. 'I am old enough to remember the war years when we used to recycle everything,' she says.

'We learned to be economical so what I do today probably goes back to my childhood. I suppose that's what a psychologist would make of it!'

She started The Recycle Works in 1995, initially making wooden compost bins. 'Failure wasn't an option - I had to make a go of it.' She designed the bins made from sustainable sources and they were manufactured for her by prisoners in Scottish jails.

'My children were very patient with me - I think they rather I did this than got married again,' she laughs.

Eventually, it was the smart design of the bins plus the fact they were flat-packed for easy transportation which made them a hit and she decided to take the next step by manufacturing herself.

In 2001 this grandmother rented a unit at the old Bee Mill in Ribchester and decided to follow the work by moving her home and dogs to the Ribble Valley village.

' The ethos behind the business is about helping people by invigorating and encouraging them to do what is right for the environment,'

From compost bins, The Recycle Works moved into flat-packed water buts which were bought in vast numbers by drought-stricken Australians.

Since then, the company has mushroomed with a thriving mail order and internet business sending clever, environmentally-friendly goods to markets throughout Britain and abroad.

The product range stretches across a 40-page booklet packed with intriguing gadgets and commonsense products from raised beds to wormeries. There's also a 'Magic' range which uses natural ingredients with remarkable results. These are made from 100 per cent plant root and boost the performance of seeds, cleans ponds, stimulates composting and even unblocks drains.

Sylvia and the team have also become involved in school projects across Lancashire by linking in with the Food for Life Partnership. The Recycle Works has put together package of kit for primary schools to b ecome involved in organic gardening. It includes recycling bins, tools, raised beds and even a miniature wheelbarrow manufactured in Lostock Hall by former vicar Bob Jackson.

The latest development has come with the help of colleague Simon Brockholes, of Garstang. It means the company has been at the forefront in the UK of developing the use of Effective Micro-organisms (EM). These remarkable bugs promote a natural resistance to harmful bacteria and release beneficial substances for the home, garden and even in health and beauty products.

Simon is developing his own Bokashi Bran, a Japanese development for enriching wheat bran with EM and molasses. Sprinkling the bran on kitchen waste creates a fermentation process which provides a fast, odour-free organic compost.

Simon says it has a host of other applications - you can even eat the bran for breakfast!

Sylvia, who now employs three people and a further four part-timers, adds: 'At the end of every day I think life gets a little bit better.' And with people like her and her team around, it will be a little better for the rest of us, too.

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