Giving new life to old exam furniture!

Friday 15 December 2023

It’s that time of year when students are hoping they’ve not inadvertently stepped on the initials of Patrick Hamilton outside the Quadrangle as they sit down to exams and hope their minds don’t go blank.

Academic traditions at St Andrews are numerous and environment manager Andrew Stahly is contributing to their preservation through a legacy furniture project he’s spearheading, which includes refurbishing exam desks.

Around 500 of these desks are stored at Teases Mill outside Cupar and have been set up at exam locations around the University since the 1970’s. Of course, fifty years’ of constant use and they’re beginning to show their age, but knowing the carbon cost of throwing them out and buying replacements, Andy looked for an alternative solution and partnered with Recycle Scotland.

“The University is moving from a linear to a circular waste management system, which means we are reducing what we buy, reusing what we have and recycling what we no longer use,” he said. “Working with Recycle Scotland is allowing us to put this into practice by remanufacturing products that would otherwise be disposed.”

Recycle Scotland works with large companies and institutions who are looking for carbon-friendly options for furniture that can either be repurposed or refurbished, omitting the cost of new purchases and preserving pieces that are often of a higher quality than contemporary furniture.  In 2022, Recycle Scotland worked with businesses across Scotland to save 255,000kg of furniture from landfill, reusing or recycling over 97% of furniture into component parts.

“By refurbishing and repurposing these pieces, we demonstrated our joint commitment to the transformative power of refurbishment, ensuring that these essential assets continue to serve the university for years to come,” Andy said.

St Andrews and the University of Dundee are leading the way, but other institutions are taking note after Andy presented the work at a recent conference organized by the Environment Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC).

“To date, we have remanufactured over 100 desks which will be used for exams, we have also had some examples carried out on chairs. We are working with Residential and Business Services on a small project to remanufacture three large sofas for a common room in University Hall,” Andy said, and encouraged anyone interested to reach out directly.

For those sitting exams next semester, if the mind does go blank there could be an opportunity to ponder who else has sat at the very same desk facing a similar situation.

Written by Amanda Skinner


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