Recycling’s a way of life for ‘Driftwood’

Lee Westerman

Lee Westerman

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“My dad got my first bike off a scrap heap and I loved it”, recalled Lee Westerman.

“I always used things that others have got rid of and never chucked things away as a kid because there’s usually nothing wrong with them. It’s just the throwaway culture that we live in”.

Recycled items in Lee's home

Recycled items in Lee's home

Now 40 years old, Lee has stuck by his dad’s principals and his house is an Aladdin’s cave of mirrors, bottles and lamps that have been made from “all kinds of rubbish”.

Lee finds most of his materials in piles of fly-tipped waste on the former Steetley site, which is a short walk from his home in West View Road, Hartlepool.

With a bit of time, elbow grease and technical ability, he has made everything from a shed using a broken up and dumped fence to a pond that is actually a bath, he has even fixed his toilet using pieces he has found.

Lee said: “It’s all about recycling. We just don’t do enough of it in this country.

“You see the landfills getting bigger and bigger, and I’m sure there’s loads of stuff in them that people could use.

“I remember when you could just go down to the skips and pick things out, no problem. Now everything just gets sent away and disappears.”

Lee is originally from Grimsby and has only been in Hartlepool for a year, during which time he has been unable to get a job.

He wanted to make a fresh start so hopped on his bike and rode more than 100 miles to the town to see a friend, and ended up settling in the area.

The former security guard said: “I lost my job, my wife and my house so I thought I needed to do something. I got on my push bike and went for a ride.

“I’m settled here now and have a lot of friends. They call me ‘Driftwood’ because of what I do.

“I’m not one of those people who sits around unemployed waiting for something to happen. I keep myself busy through the recycling, and it also saves me a lot of money.”

Lee now lives with partner Jessica Martin, 25, and is step-dad to her child Ella, four.

“We spend money on her clothes and toys and things, and with us both being on benefits there is little left so I make the things I need.

“Making the stuff has become a job to me. I’m a bit of a jack of all trades so can turn my hand to most things.

“I’ve been looking for jobs, I’ve got a few applications, but there’s so little out there. At least I’m not just sat around doing nothing.”

But Lee’s unusual pastime has seen him clash with the law on a few occasions.

He added: “I have been stopped a few times and told that what I do could be classed as theft by finding, but this is just stuff that people have dumped, there’s no victim.

“I haven’t been arrested or anything, I think they just want to make sure I wasn’t taking anything valuable.

“It’s not about the money for me, it’s about not taking all the time and actually using what we have.

“If you think about the oil and what goes into things, they shouldn’t just be thrown away. We should be recycling more and making a difference.”