Building a better future with materials rescued from the scrap heap

Game Changers: Habitat ReStore chain of shops carefully dismantles old kitchens to be reused elsewhere

Dublin artist and beekeeper Anthony Freeman O’Brien believes he could build a whole house from the materials he finds discarded. Recently he built a greenhouse from plastic Covid screens and timber from a skip. The greenhouse means more growing space for pollinator-friendly plants to fill the urban spaces and greet his Bee8 worker bees with pollen when they emerge from winter. It’s a double win.

Usable building materials are thrown away all the time. They may be leftovers, wrongly sized windows or doors or ends of production lines cleared out to make space in warehouses for the new line.

The best climate solutions work for everybody. They save money, free up time, make people feel better about consumption and grow a community of upcyclers who build a culture where salvage isn’t second best but a beautiful lifestyle choice.

The Habitat ReStore chain of shops run by housing charity Habitat for Humanity is a win-win idea. There are five branches in Northern Ireland, one in Drogheda, Co Louth, and they are setting their sights on a Dublin shop this year, all going well.


“It really works, for everybody,” says chief executive Jenny Williams. She has been working for three decades in the voluntary sector but her “very first proper job” was with Texas Homecare (now called HomeBase), so she knew the building materials market from the retail side.

Habitat ReStore only sells donated materials, so “each store and each week is different”, says Williams. Sonas Bathrooms recently entered into partnership to donate end of line bathroom supplies to them, and ReStore also has a similar arrangement with Murdock’s Builders Merchants in Northern Ireland. “We rescue approximately 1,500 tonnes every year,” says Williams. They had more than 95,000 transactions last year, and saved 250 kitchens from landfill.

Working with construction supervisors and a small team of volunteers, they offer a “kitchen rescue” service, where they will come and remove an old kitchen (as long as there are no gas fittings) in return for a donation. This allows them to train people to dismantle a kitchen carefully so it can be reinstalled elsewhere.

They opened the first ReStore in Lisburn 12 years ago “when we were really on the cusp of the whole upcycling agenda”, says Williams. She believes people are now proud to say they bought from ReStore, as it becomes a badge of care, retaining something useful, diverting it from landfill and giving people on tight budgets access to lower cost materials.

“It really is a case that ‘your trash is my treasure’,” says Williams.

As restorations go, the more reuse the better, for purse and planet.

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a founder of Pocket Forests