Sustainable Chat with Cathy Benwell, A Good Thing
Cathy tells us about her Community Interest Company (CIC) that helps businesses give their unwanted items to charities in need.
What’s your background? When did you start being eco-conscious?
I am the Co-Founder of A Good Thing, a CIC aimed at reducing waste, but my professional background was originally in publishing. I studied modern languages at university and then went on to work in editorial teams, writing, editing and proofreading. I have always been a bit of an eco-warrior – I first became a member of Friends of the Earth back in 1986 and at the age of 8 I was using my own plastic bag in shops decades before it was trendy to do so. I got very odd looks for it. 🙂 We are now a fully ‘electric car family’ and have become quite evangelical about them.
Do UK businesses do enough recycling? Or is there still too much waste going to landfill?
The waste in this country is shocking. Anyone who has worked for a business of any size will have experienced it in some shape or form. This was a big part of what drove my husband and me to set up A Good Thing – he runs a tech business, and we were looking at how items were being disposed of within his organisation. We were sure we could be doing better!
How did you come up with the idea for ‘A Good Thing’?
I was heavily involved with a charity called Home-Start in Slough, and my husband was running a tech business in Maidenhead, Berkshire. His software developers needed to have their laptops upgraded every couple of years in order to produce their best work, while the staff I was working with at Home-Start were desperate for better tech. Many of them worked on old and slow machines, which were susceptible to breaking down. We realised there was a brilliant opportunity to pass the developers’ laptops on to my Home-Start colleagues once they finished with – meaning they could start working faster and better.
What’s the aim of your app?
We aim to matchmake businesses that have items to give away, with charities that are in need of donations. If you’ve ever used a site like Freecycle, you’ll be aware of the concept – someone’s unwanted item can be a real treasure to someone else with a different need. It’s super simple, but people love the idea!
When did you launch?
We worked all through the very first lockdown, from March 2020 onwards, to get A Good Thing off the ground, and set up the CIC in November 2020. We launched our Thames Valley pilot in February 2021.
How does it benefit businesses and charities?
Businesses love it, as it helps them to pass on unwanted items without the guilt of knowing they’re going to landfill. They love the feel good effect of giving things away to a local charity, knowing that they have done some good and avoided creating more waste. Every time we make a ‘match’, we write it up as a blog: businesses have loved using these stories as great PR – both internally and externally. Businesses tell us they love the simplicity of the website, and the ease of use – and of course it’s all completely free.
And it’s also a no-brainer for charities. It takes 30 seconds to register with us, and then they’ll be notified with a quick email as soon as anything is offered in their local area. Charities are more in need of help and support than ever before – the funding landscape has changed fundamentally since the beginning of the pandemic, and of course (as we’re all too aware) the need for their services has rocketed. They don’t have the time to trawl local groups or approach local businesses individually, to ask for donations of items – and nor do they often have the resources to purchase the things they really need in order to deliver their brilliant projects as efficiently as they might. A Good Thing is the ideal solution! The charities and businesses we’ve spoken to since we launched have been overwhelmingly supportive of the idea – they all love the concept, and many have even pondered why it hasn’t existed before now.
How many businesses and charities do you have signed up?
We recently hit 100 charities, which felt like a huge milestone we’re incredibly proud of. Businesses have been a little slower to recruit, but we have a great number of them now, too – around 60. They’re spread across the country – we even just had our first organisation register in Scotland!
What’s the most common thing that businesses donate? And charities need?
It’s been a wide range so far: we’ve had beautiful organic cotton baby blankets donated to a brilliant charity in Windsor called The Baby Bank, which supports vulnerable families. They were donated by a lovely lady who had been running her own gorgeous online baby wear boutique, but was having to close the business due to disability. She was so thrilled that her surplus stock was going to a good home. We have also had computer monitors, furniture, stationery and laptops donated. One company donated a large number of branded T shirts – and these were happily matched with an Oxfordshire charity working with disabled children. The charity planned to use the T shirts as painting smocks and for messy play.
How do businesses and charities get involved?
It’s so easy! Go to www.agoodthing.org.uk and click on the red ‘Sign up’ button to create an account. It literally takes 30 seconds. If you’re a business, you don’t even have to have anything to donate straightaway – just create an account, and then it’s there when you need it. If you’re a charity, as soon as you sign up you’ll start receiving email notifications any time something is being offered by a business near you – so you can begin to get a feeling for what’s on offer in your area.
What’s your vision?
We would love to see a world in which nothing went to waste – in which businesses thought carefully about what they were disposing of, and made sure they found new homes for things they no longer needed. We have big ambitions. We’d love to have every business and charity in the UK signed up to A Good Thing! We’d love it to be the go-to app for anyone working in any sort of firm, who has been tasked with getting rid of something that’s no longer needed.
To find out more about A Good Thing please visit their website on www.agoodthing.org.uk