Neil Flanagan made Director of Recycling Lives charity

After five years’ dedicated service, Neil Flanagan has been made Director of the Recycling Lives UK social welfare charity.

Preston born and bred, Neil’s first career was in retail. He started work in Longton, preparing meat to be sold on market stalls and a Manchester shop. Later, he started working as a market trader himself. He soon developed a passion for customer service, as well as a strong work ethic from the 5am starts and 7pm finishes, at least five days a week.

Loyal as well as hardworking, Neil worked closely with the company owner to expand the fledgling business to an 18-unit operation throughout Manchester and Yorkshire. After 23 years, he left the company, needing a change. He was also bringing up his children as a single father, and the hours were too much – even for Neil’s energy levels!

He was soon approached by a frozen food company and offered a position, which he accepted. Within 18 months, the company had doubled from six to 12 units, and Neil was instrumental in this development. During this incredible expansion, Neil made it his priority to stay in constant contact with the staff, seeing them as the backbone of the business.

Where could Neil go from there? After three years, he decided to take the plunge into self-employment, and bought two cafes. He enjoyed running his own businesses but things soon went took a turn for the worse: Northern Rock Building Society collapsed, and Neil lost his home. Even for someone with Neil’s natural enthusiasm, this was a hard blow to bear.

Now living in rented accommodation, Neil was still running the cafes, one of which was a stone’s throw away from a new building project: The Recycling Lives Centre. While the building work was going on, all the construction workers would come to Neil’s cafe for brews and butties. Finally, everything changed: on what could have been any other day, Steve Jackson OBE visited the cafe and invited Neil over to have a look around the Recycling Lives site.

This encounter was just what the disillusioned Neil needed. At this point, times were tough. He had lost direction, and was on the brink of selling up and going travelling. But, when he heard Steve’s vision for the concept of the Recycling Lives social welfare charity, he felt inspired. When Steve asked Neil whether he wanted to be a part of it, it didn’t take long for him to make up his mind. Neil says:

“I think it took about five minutes to decide! I thought, if this guy can have faith in me and offer me this opportunity, and share his dream – well, it was just what I needed to put myself back on track and not run away travelling!”

Of course, it was a huge challenge from the beginning, but Neil showed his characteristic dedication and passion, forging ahead to tackle everything that had to be done. In some ways, things haven’t changed; every day is still a challenge, but things work brilliantly because the team is dedicated and passionate. The results bear out the charity’s success, from Residents moving on to independent living after changing their lives, to Recycling Lives winning the Queen’s Award.

Neil is deeply proud of the Recycling Lives model, because it has an end result that’s delivered by people who are dedicated to working alongside Residents, and to helping them to succeed. He says:

“This, along with the connection to the social business, Recycling Lives Ltd, makes it work. What we do is transparent and easy for the Residents to understand. They can see their progress and move at their own pace, enjoying their time here.”

There is one part of the charity about which Neil is especially proud, and that is the new Recycling Lives Recycling Park cafe, run as a social enterprise. This started with Resident and staff input, a small budget, and lots of planning. The idea was to deliver a clean and healthy place where people could enjoy fresh, nutritious food.

“It was all hands on deck from the start, with Residents and staff mucking in to clean and paint. We planned menus and got donations from our charity partners. From the outset, I wanted everyone to take ownership of the project and be fully committed.”

The result is a superb social enterprise cafe that has made a huge difference to the charity. All the Residents have taken Level 2 Food Hygiene, and the end results will be jobs for them, as well as work placements and training for future Residents. There are even plans to grow vegetables on site at the Recycling Lives Centre! Neil adds:

“The guys have a new lease of life. The enthusiasm is terrific, and the cafe is building bridges with the commercial side, as the staff are seeing the Residents prepare their food and serve it with commitment. We hope to build more centres to continue this work, offering Residents opportunities and encouragement to follow their dreams.”

Neil has certainly packed a lot into five years, and it all started with a simple chat to Steve Jackson. Now, Neil is a Director, and Steve has an OBE, but both men are still as driven as ever, and Steve obviously saw something in Neil. Being made Director is highly deserved after five years of service and a lot of ups and downs. Steve says:

“I’d like to offer my congratulations to Neil Flanagan on his well deserved appointment. Neil was the first employee of the social welfare charity in 2008, and has helped to shape its model and work ethic right from the start.

“He is driving the development of social enterprise, with the full support of the Recycling Lives Ltd staff and funding. He pioneered the refit of the cafe and brought in a culture change there – no easy task.

“In addition to the café itself, Neil is spearheading the development of a catering training and employment route to be presented to Residents, in addition to our existing employment development courses. His hard work has been invaluable to Recycling Lives, he’s proved his worth time and time again, and we are immensely grateful.”

Neil is delighted by his appointment. Let’s leave the last word to the Man of the Moment:

“Recycling Lives is about people. Without that little chat with Steve, I would not be here today. He saw something in me and had faith, helping me when I was down. I can only repay him by passing on my passion and enthusiasm to the Residents!”