Recycling with a social conscience: Meet Marianne Gilbert

Making much from little


BRAG (Brentford Recycling Action Group)
meets on the first Tuesday of every month at the Directors' Meeting Room, Brentford Dock at 7pm

This is followed by Green Drinks at 8pm at the Magpie and Crown .

Come along for one or both

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You’d be hard pressed to find something that Marianne Gilbert can’t recycle. And we’re not talking about knowing dogwhich recycling facilities will take a worn-out or unwanted object. Marianne recycles objects into beautiful art projects, or uses them to raise money for causes close to her heart.

Marianne, who’s lived in Brentford since 1972, was born at home in Chapel Street Market, in Islington. Her family was bombed out during the war and then sent to King’s Cross to live, later moving to Islington.

Her knack for making much from little started young. When Marianne was 11 years old, she was awarded a place at a school that required a uniform. Her mother thought she would have to turn down the place because the family couldn’t afford the uniform. “Give me 10 bob [10 shillings, or about £1.20 in today's money],” Marianne said to her mother, and she went to a local market and bought the materials needed to make the uniform.

Since then, Marianne hasn’t looked back. If you’re lucky enough to have come across GLADs Club at Brentford School for Girls, you’ll have some idea of the breadth of her creativity.

GLAD to be of service

Marianne started GLADs Club 10 years ago, though she’s been at the Brentford School for Girls for 14 years. She first worked as a teaching assistant, after gaining a City & Guilds qualification in learning disabilities.

When asked to start a lunchtime art club, she leapt at the chance, and GLADs Club was born. GLAD means Gilbert’s Lunchtime Artclub Doers, and its motto is “Look glad, be glad, feel glad”, reflecting Marianne’s optimistic view on life. When the time came to retire, the school asked her to stay on one day a week to continue to run GLADs Club and its fundraising efforts.

The club raises money for a dizzying number of excellent causes. The girls collect used stamps, broken jewellery, wool, unwanted gifts, old mobiles, ink jet cartridges, foreign coins and much more, none of which is wasted, and much of which is turned into cash.

Some of the lucky organisations that have benefited from the club’s fundraising efforts are the RSPB, RNLI and the Hounslow Toy Library. And, reflecting Marianne’s interest in special needs, the club also raises money for the Camphill family and Friends of Hounslow Portage, which supports special-needs families.

Vision is another issue close to Marianne’s heart, and when a member of the school family died, she decided to honour her memory by having a guide dog named after her. She contacted the Guide Dogs for the Blind association and was told that it would cost £4,000 to name a dog. Mariane started fundraising, and, two years later, she had raised the money. The dog, Daisy, now lives in Scotland.

GLADs Club currently supports Gilbert, a golden Labrador (see photo), paying £20 a term towards his education. The club also supports VISOR (Visually Impaired Society of Richmond) and Vision Aid Overseas. The club has collected 296 pairs of eyeglasses for Vision Aid in the past nine months.

Marianne GilbertAnd that’s not all. GLADs Club supports the Tulsi Trust  a registered charity working with Bengali resettled refugees and the indigenous Adivaashi people in Madhya Pradesh, India, through

Community responsibility and environmental awareness

GLADs Club also has strong ties with Age UK, and girls from Brentford School for Girls have been visiting the Brentford group for years – Marianne used to take them during their lunch hour, believing strongly in young and old mixing and sharing their experiences.

“One of my goals is to make people aware of how lucky they are,” says Marianne.  “And to break down barriers.”

In terms of her art focus, Marianne has a links with Age UK knitting group and turns their knitted squares into toys that can be sold. She said that youngest member of the group is 82 and the oldest 95. She also makes dolls for Green Dragon School.

As if that weren’t enough to exhaust most people, Marianne runs a gardening club at the Brentford School for Girls and is working on a wildlife garden, which helps improve the girls’ awareness of nature and our responsibility towards it. She also helps the girls improve their photographic skills, drawing on the experience she gained working at Agfa when it was based in Brentford.

A visit to remember

Marianne is not shy about asking heavy hitters for help. Once she contacted the department store Liberty, asking it to contribute doilies for a project. Liberty said it couldn’t help, but one day a company van appeared at the school with swatches of fabric for GLADs club to use. The company subsequently invited the girls for a visit, an event that Marianne says they’re not likely to forget.

Marianne’s work is carefully documented. She sends out a quarterly newsletter, GLADs Club News, which shows what the club has been doing and provides news about the charities the club supports.

And if you visit her at home in Brentford, you can see some of her art projects in her crowded workroom (see photo). She recently created a beautiful mosaic for the Bee campaign being run by a local Friends of the Earth group, for example.

The theme of community runs strongly throughout Marianne’s work and informs her philosophy of life.

“People like to help,” she says, and her work gives them a forum for doing so.

Brentford is home to a lot of unsung heroes, and I think we can safely say that Marianne comes very high up the list.

Catharine Browne, reproduced from the brand new

July 13, 2012

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