One man’s rubbish is another’s new community hub

He heads a business which has given away �143m to worthy projects but have you heard of Peter Cox or Norfolk-based Waste Recycling Environmental (Wren)? If the answer is no, you would not be alone but Mr Cox and his team believe it is about the projects they support and the lives they change rather than self-promotion, as sustainability correspondent TARA GREAVES reports.

For Peter Cox it was a six month job, a filler position while looking for something more suitable.

Eight years later, he admits that he has become 'immersed in a world of good will' which he has no desire to escape from.

As managing director of Waste Recycling Environmental (Wren), Mr Cox is in charge of a fund of about �15m a year which is given out in the form of grants to community, heritage and environmental projects in England, Scotland and Wales.

'I came here thinking 'this is a six month job and then I will find something with more bite' but here I am eight years on,' said Mr Cox, who lives in Attleborough with his fianc�e Dawn, his son Alec and her daughters Jessica and Abigail.

Originally from Gravesend in Kent, he moved to East Anglia with his shipping agency role following the Tilbury dock strike in the 1980s.

He then worked in several jobs where he helped companies to downsize and was considering focussing on this as a career when a job at Wren, a not for profit business based in a picture postcard Norfolk farmhouse in Bridgham, came up.

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Wren's money is donated by the Waste Recycling Group (WRG), a waste management company, through a voluntary environmental tax credit scheme called the Landfill Communities Fund (LCF).

Since it began in 1998, Wren has granted more than �143m to more than 5,300 projects which benefit people living within 10 miles of a WRG landfill site.

'One of the great things about Wren is that no two years are the same and every one brings a totally different focus,' said Mr Cox.

Wren employs 25 staff, managing more than 700 applications for grants each year with examples including village halls and greens, children's parks and play equipment, museums, country parks and community gardens, nature reserves, woodland areas and conservation projects together with historical, heritage and religious buildings.

'The only way to properly understand something is to really get into it and with all of my jobs I was given the ability to do just that, for example I was a fitter for a day, a welder, a machine operator, a forklift truck driver and a loader. It's the same with this job, staff are all given the chance to spend time in each area to really get to know what Wren does. We have a culture of everyone being very involved.'

Wren gives between �2,000 and �50,000 depending on which of the grant schemes it is and the project bid.

'One of the interesting things at the moment is that, up until about two years ago, there was a tendency to pull things down and rebuild rather than renovate but now the money is not there to do that sort of scale project. There are some fabulous buildings sitting there doing nothing and all it takes is someone with a vision to come along and it can be transformed into a community hub and have a new life,' he added.

Regional advisory panels give local people, who bring invaluable knowledge about the area, the chance to decide which projects and organisations receive funding.

Mr Cox said: 'It's amazing how far often a little amount of money can go and what it can achieve. There are some fantastic ideas out there, Wren just gives people the chance to make them happen.'

To find out more about Wren's funding and to check whether your project is eligible, visit www.wren.org.uk or call 01953 717165.

Biodiversity projects in Norfolk are being urged by renowned conservation expert Baroness Young to apply for a share of �10m of funding before the January deadline.

The five year Biodiversity Action Fund (Baf), launched by Wren last year, aims to conserve and restore some of the UK's most precious natural habitats and endangered species.

Baroness Young, former chief executive of the Environment Agency and chair of the Wren Baf panel, is encouraging applications from projects which will deliver a significant impact to the natural world.

'With the support of the Biodiversity Action Fund, animals like frogs, toads, birds and butterflies can survive and thrive in the face of climate change.

'But it goes beyond boosting butterfly numbers. Biodiversity and the condition of the natural world is fundamental to the economic welfare of this country. Yet conservation projects desperately need more financial support to maintain their work. I urge conservation bodies, community groups and charities to get their bids in before it's too late.'

Individual grants range from �75,000 to �250,000. To be eligible for funding, projects must demonstrate how they would work towards meeting national, regional or local biodiversity targets set out in Biodiversity Action Plans.

See the video for more information.