As the road west into the far reaches of Cornwall gets smaller, local businesses begin to pop up at almost every turn. Geography necessitates cutting your own way through life in this part of the world, and it doesn’t take long for me to realise that Shaun Trenoweth is no stranger to forging his own path in the world of reclamation.
Just off the A30 on the approach to the stunning scenery of Penzance and the far southwest of Cornwall lies Trenoweth Roofing & Reclamation. A small sign pointing the way round the back of a non-descript yard is the only indication of the eclectic treasures that Shaun has collected over many years. As with many things in Cornwall, things get more interesting the harder you look and the more you pay attention to the way things work round here.
I’m greeted by a huge, circus-style monkey, probably 20ft high, that both watches over the yard and warmly welcomes visitors in equal measure. As a youngster, Shaun explains that he ‘ran away’ with the fair for two years, which goes someway to explaining his love of the wonderful and his keen eye for today’s lessen-seen aesthetics. There are joyous remnants of this time, such as fairground parts and paintings advertising clown shows. It goes a long way to help explain Shaun’s personal connection to the way he runs his business.
Back from the fair and firmly rooted in native Cornwall, Shaun became a roofer by trade. The yard as a business was started 14 years ago, and this part of the yard still sees its fair share of custom from locals across the county.
‘It’s a family business’ Shaun explains, ‘my son has worked here from the age of ten - he’s now 16.’ There is a sense here that not only is this place rooted in the family but skills, knowledge and possibly more importantly a sense of appreciation of the personal value of Shaun’s collection has been passed down. ‘You learn off the old guys,’ ‘Shared passion is important when it comes to reciprocal trade,’ Shaun continues. ‘I have had people buy off me for years who are now good friends.’
I get a sense that Shaun is catering for the industry as well as people who share his curiosity and enthusiasm for his world. The process of collecting reclaimed materials started naturally, he suggests, after renting out the yard and starting with one shipping container. Predictably, he now has many more, as well as a seemingly scattered but endlessly organised pile of stuff that people are welcome to browse. The eclectic mix of material here is linked by common themes of rural life and time spent by the sea. Old anchors, life-rafts from Search and Rescue Sea King helicopters and parts of boats are mixed with farming equipment, mining lamps, pressure gauges and village signposts.
Eclectic they might be but there’s a feel to the yard that’s consistent. The way it ‘feels’ to Shaun is important, and he tells me he can’t sell too much for fear it may lose its character and the value and enjoyment that it brings. ‘There’s an interest in everything,’ ‘Everything has a story and occasionally some things that I’ve sold can play on my mind.’ ‘Will I find it again?’ ‘There may never be another one of those.’ It’s easy to get the impression of an investment and relationship that goes far beyond buying and selling in a monetary sense. ‘To be honest, I buy a lot of stuff because I like it myself.’ ‘That’s really important.’
Quite often customers come to Shaun for roofing materials but they’ll spot other bits of the collection they like at the same time. They will then come back to buy things they never intended to. A couple of people do just that during just my afternoon the springtime sunshine with Shaun. There’s a friendly, relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere and in good weather, I’ve found myself getting distracted by things I recognise or items I love. It’s addictive and compelling.
Shaun has a keen eye for not only what sells but what makes him and his customers happy. The genuine intrigue and fascination behind how items look, how they feel and how they’re put together is the glue that holds this yard in place, and Shaun wouldn’t have it any other way. I asked him about how he sees the future for people like him. ‘People are holding on to more things now - so I probably buy less - but I run big sale days and promote locally.’ Indeed, Trenoweth Roofing & Reclamation is a big hit on social media, with an active fan base that spreads the world both nationally even and across the pond to clients in America. It comes down to one thing - a shared appreciation and love of what’s gone before.
A friend of mine once told me that he thought there were too many people in the world that knew the price of everything, but the value of nothing. I feel a bit better about this statement having met Shaun. With his yard, there’s not only financial value in what he does, but an intrinsic respect, reverence and almost superstitious element to the items he collects. Cornwall is an area of this country that is sensitive to things from the past - a reusing and repurposing that’s deep within Cornish culture, its values and how its identity often views a wasteful society. Shaun Trenoweth is an embodiment of these values, and upon reflecting this, I promised to keep in touch and provide a shot for the Trenoweth Roofing and Reclamation Yard Facebook page. I wend my way home on Cornish country lanes, still thinking that I must go through those piles in the corner of my garage.
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