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Construction National blog: 15/05/2012

Construction National blog logoWhile researching an article for the paper version of a sister magazine of this title, Ecclesiastical and Heritage World, I came across the story of St Andrew's Church in Boxford, Berkshire. Its main claim to fame is that it contains what is thought to be the oldest working Saxon shuttered window in the country. Equally interesting to me is the fact that, when its tower fell down in 1657 it fell into the garden of "a prominent local Quaker named Oliver Sanson, who was in the middle of an on-going feud with the rector, Jacob Anderton, over the payment of tithes," according to David Nash Ford's Royal Berkshire History.

Mr Sanson refused to let the church have the pieces of masonry back, so new material had to be used, making the tower distinct from the rest of the church, which was medieval (except for the Saxon bit).

As well as being a cautionary tale about falling out with your neighbours, it is a perfect illustration of the way buildings were recycled as a matter of course in past centuries. Roman stone is to be found in many medieval buildings, and the dissolution of the monasteries provided many a local community with a ready source of building material. Kirkstall Abbey's Bramley Fall gritstone, for example, was partially used to build a nearby pub – the perfect combination of God and Mammon.

With the advent of mass produced bricks and the cheap production of other building materials the practice of recycling buildings became ever-less common and the construction industry became the biggest producer of waste by a long way. In 2006 the industry was called upon by WRAP and the Sustainability Alliance to half the amount of waste it sends to landfill by 2012.

Well, 2012 is now here, so how are we doing? The latest figures available from WRAP are in its Halving Waste to Landfill Signatory Report 2011, which shows 602 companies have signed up to the commitment and are making real progress. There are no up-to-date figures for the proportion of construction waste being recycled, but the proportion increased steadily as the century progressed.

The best way to cut down on waste, though, is to re-use. It's a bit of a hobby horse of mine, I know, but some of the most striking 'new' homes and other premises are reworking of old factories and churches. The prize in my book goes to the church of a village which was deserted following the building of a series of reservoirs. The church was dismantled in 1926 and rebuilt on a new site. More recently the dwindling of the congregation led to it being closed as a church and it became a craft workshop and centre for antiques. That probably clocks up more recycling than any other building I can think of.

Chris Stokes