Wednesday 26 April 2017

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to the Father of Recycled Waste, Jon Vogler

Many young people living in today cannot remember a time when household waste wasn't recycled and it has become an accepted feature of everyday life in Britain, yet go back 30 years and it was only Kirklees Council, which sorted household waste material and Jon, who has died at the age of 77, was the 35 year old engineer in charge of that operation and for that reason deserves the title of 'Father of Recycling' in Britain.

He was born Jonathan Anthony Vogler in Hackney, North-East London in March 1939, just before the outbreak of the Second World War, the son of his Catholic mother, Thérèse and Jewish father, Sydney, who was a public health inspector. at the age of 10 gained a state scholarship ton attend the pestigious independent school for boys, Haberdasher Askes. For future reference, it was when he was in his mid teens that he later recalled a conversation with an aunt who "was a painter who took up sculpture.  I asked her what art was about and she showed me a picture of Van Gogh's 'Chair' and said : "That is the essence of a chair." "

Having left school at the age of 18 in 1957 he took himself down to the West Country and Bristol University to study as an undergraduate for a BSc degree in Aeronautical Engineering and having met an undergraduate studying medicine called Jillian Hughes, he recalled that, she, "the girl I was in love with was not very interested in wind tunnels and supersonic aerodynamics but was very willing to go and look at art with me. We went to a talk about Picasso's Guernica in Bristol Art Gallery.  This evidently worked, because she became my wife and we have been visiting art galleries together ever since. However, I was certain I had no ability as an artist myself." Philosophically, he drew a distinction in his mind between the creativity involved in 'art' and that of engineering which was different "in that all your choices are rational; either you calculate or else you draw on your past experience."

The Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) was founded in 1958 and Jon was one of its first volunteers assigned to help to finish building the Bernard Mizeki School in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, which opened as an independent boarding school for boys in 1961. He then taught in the school and returned to Britain the following year to take up an industrial fellowship with 'English Electric' and married Jill, now a qualified doctor, in 1962.

In 1966 he moved with Jill to Nigeria, where he was resident engineer on the Kainji Dam on the River Niger and later recalled : "I was site engineer on the main turbines for the Niger Dam. To stop the River Niger in its tracks, and walk on the river bed where nobody had ever walked before, was an extraordinary experience." They returned to Britain the following year and in 1971 settled in Roundhay. a suburb of Leeds, West Yorkshire.

In 1974 Jon used his skills as an engineer to set up Britain's first large-scale recycling system at a time when it was virtually unknown and designed the 'Wastesaver' household scheme in West Yorkshire for Oxfam. His innovative 'dumpy' device, made of metal tubing, held four different coloured bags into which households sorted their waste and with the co-operation of Kirklees Council, the sorted material was collected from 20,000 homes and taken to a disused mill in Huddersfield for recycling.

With the exception of clothes, textiles and aluminium collection, the Wastesaver scheme was discontinued four years later and Jon wrote in the Oxfam publication 'Muck and Brass' that it had been 'an interesting experiment in waste recycling. It has proved conclusively that the public will respond in a sustained fashion to a well-run recycling scheme. Yet it has clarified the underlying weakness in the British economy as an environment for domestic waste reclamation. Rising transport costs have been the major inhibiting factor, and they remain the question mark for the future.' 

In the 1980s, when he was in his forties and with his recycling reputation established, he received funding from the Commonwealth and the United Nations and undertook research into the reuse of waste materials in the Third World and set up his consultancy, 'Interwaste', aimed at 'recycling of waste in both Great Britain and developing countries.'

He was highly critical of existing government institutions and wrote in 1984 : 'The United Nations has an Environmental Programme which has, in the past, had a poor reputation for constructive activity. Its staff should abandon their comfortable offices in a lovely suburb of Nairobi and start to tackle some of these dirty, unattractive waste recovery and disposal problems. In Eastern Europe, as in much of the Third World, the need of people to obtain a livelihood will, inevitably, take priority over environmental considerations. However recycling can provide a constructive solution to both. NGOs are pointing the way; it is time for industry, municipalities, governments and international bureaucracies to follow.'

Jon was busy in Nairobi where he worked with the 'Undugu-Society of Kenya' to : 'try and provide employment for the Parking Boys : youths who normally roam the streets demanding protection money from motorists who park their cars.' This project involved recovering the scrap metal from wrecked cars, which littered the streets of the city and selling it to the local steel mills, which melted it to make reinforcing bars for the construction industry. He recorded that it : ' was technically successful with training of selected youths to dismantle wrecks, but did not proceed because the Nairobi City Council would not take the necessary legislative and administrative steps to authorise the project to deal with the huge numbers of rusting cars which disfigure their city.'

His work in a tough, poor area of downtown Kingston, Jamaica where he worked with 'Coke Methodist Church' to develop a recycling scheme to create employment for local women proved to be 'successful and enduring'. He recalled : 'They received a one week training course in identification of the main different kinds of plastics and rapidly became proficient at separating polymers, to the satisfaction of a local manufacturer of agricultural irrigation pipes.' Initially he had a problem getting sufficient supplies of waste plastic 'but contacts were made with scavengers on the local municipal garbage dump, who willingly undertook to collect plastics materials and from then on obtaining sufficient supplies proved no difficulty.' 

His attempt to replicate the successful Jamaican plastics recycling project in Nairobi, Kenya failed. Initially, all went well and 'Good progress was made in obtaining reliable supplies, training work people and negotiating lucrative sales contracts.' However, the senior project management, the Salvation Army, failed to resolve problem of the supply of electricity used to run the granulating machine and he concluded that 'The message is that single minded local management, with commitment and authority, is essential.'

In Egypt he had more success where he 'worked with Oxfam and Environmental Quality International, management consultants of Cairo, to help the Zabaline garbage collectors improve their sorting and processing techniques, add value to recyclables and sell them into better markets.' 

This involved strengthening links with the Muqattam Community and Zabaline's own local community association with Oxfam, which instead of funding individual recycling projects, enabled the association to set up a rotating fund which would make loans to its members.

The 1980s were also the time when he was prolific in print. He published 'Work from Waste' in 1981 and stated in the preface : 'This book is of no value until someone, one day, uses it and finds work and earns money when previously they were idle' and saw it become a classic text for those recycling wastes to create employment and although iy was directed at the Third World, he was conscious that it also had relevance to more advanced economies.

His 1983 'Jobs from Junk' concentrated on creating employment and tidying up derelict cars and the following year he aimed his 'Small-scale recycling of plastics' at that recycling in developing countries. He published 'Recycling for Change - a handbook for fund raising by recycling' for Christian Aid in 1985.

His 1984 publication for 'Volunteers in Technical Assistance' in Virginia : 'Understanding Scrap Metal Recycling', demonstrated his ability to put recycling in an historical and cultural context : 'The recycling of metals is probably as old as other forms of metal working, which the book of Genesis gave as the occupation of Tubal Cain, eight generations after Adam, who "made all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron." Perhaps the earliest reference is in Isaiah : "They shall beat their swords into plough shares and their spears into pruning hooks." Much of the history of the modern world has been caused by the recyclability of metals: the Spanish Conquest of Latin America in the fifteenth century was carried out because the gold and silver that had been produced from ore by the Mayas and Incas could be melted down and converted into jewelry and bullion for the King of Spain.'

1986 he published his article, 'Bottle Bank Con Trick' in the New Internationalist Magazine and began with the combative : 'How do you feel when dropping the relics of that Beaujolais in the bottle bank? Virtuous; doing your bit to conserve planet earth's dwindling resources? Wistful; surely those elegant shapes needn't be smashed? Or seething about one of the slickest con tricks for which the British public has ever fallen?' He concluded that : 'I believe bottle banks are of limited value, deceive the public and obstruct an important step towards achieving a 'non-waste' society, They contrast badly with developments in Europe and the US, and with the informal and genuinely valuable recycling carried out by millions of the very poor in the Third World.' 

It was in the mid 1980s, after ten years at the forefront of recycling, that Jon shifted his career focus shifted to computing, then cyber-security, which was then in its infancy He became a computer consultant, founded 'Active Backup Ltd' and became a prolific technology journalist with articles on hacking and child pornography on the Internet and an expert witness testifying in industrial disputes and criminal cases.

In 1994 he began his voluntary work leading working parties of the 'Friends of Roundhay Park' for which he would be awarded the British Empire Medal in 2014. The 700 acre park is a venue for rock concerts and now attracts over a million visitors each year and in 2014 Jon said : “The Royal Horticultural Society recently named Roundhay the best public park in the country which is a great source of pride. It has everything - splendid lakes, formal gardens, acres of woodland and Tropical World of course and I find the work most satisfying.”
What he didn't say was that he had been instrumental in defending the Park’s Mansion House from being converted into council offices and helped to successfully lobby for the building to be restored to its former splendour with the rear wings of the building opened after an £8m refurbishment, followed by a cafe and function rooms in 2009.

In the early years of this century and in retirement, he changed direction again and concentrated on improving his skill as an artist and recalled : "As an engineer I wanted to know how things worked and how a good machine differed from a bad one. During fifty years of looking at art I have wanted to know what made one picture, or one sculpture, better than another and, of course, how to make my own sculptures 'good'." He started as an undergraduate studying for a BA in Fine Art at Leeds Metropolitan University followed by an MA in Contemporary Art Practice at Leeds College of Art and recalled : "When I started art classes they had me drawing on a big sheet of paper on the floor with a long withy stick.  I complained "I am not in control" and all the girls in the class laughed and said "That's right!  This is art not engineering!" "

Jon was able to reflect the consistency of his approach to his work across the decades : 'There is a great similarity between making a sculpture and organising a working party and, indeed, with installing a turbine in a dam. First you have to visualise; then you plan - tools, materials, work areas, special skill requirements and, always, co-ordination with others who are involved.  Then comes the execution; the part I most enjoy, when you are in contact with the material, whether it is wax for a casting or tree poles to be cut into sections to surface a muddy path or huge cylindrical steel parts to be welded together. Each material has its own special feel, its own resistance to cutting or bending, its own surface texture that needs smoothing or grinding or just leaving as nature created it.'   

Jon emerged as a talented sculptor and letter cutter, wood and stone carver and garage-based steel welder and bronze caster. He drew portraits and figures from life, sold by commission and exhibited in his garden and elsewhere in Roundhay.

For a private client he carved 'The Hands of God' in oak which are now placed in St Edmund's Church, Roundhay along with his wooden cross with the words “Be still and know that I am God” from Psalm 46, verse 10 and installed under the East window in 2012. When asked to contribute to Easter celebrations he said : "Art seeks to visualise the unimaginable. Since the Middle Ages, the Stations of the Cross have helped believers imagine how one man confronted agony, despair and the finality of death to redeem broken humanity. I am thrilled and fearful to follow great artists who have tackled this awesome subject."

His 'Stone Nude' was carved in 2013 from a fine-grained Yorkshire sandstone and his 'Bull Dancing,' based on the practise in Ancient Crete, was inspired by Niall McGregor in the BBC Radio's 'History of the World in 100 objects.'

Jon, who died from the effects of mesothelioma, a consequence of his early career in industrial engineering, said last year : "Finally, as you get older there is the challenge to overcome the body's progressive dilapidation; to use the experience gained over a lifetime as a substitute for strength and stamina and acuteness of eyesight."

Also, last year, Jon donated his 'Arrows of Desire' "protest piece" to an exhibition at St Edmund's Curch which explored Blake's 'Jerusalem' and said : 

"I see Blake as a perpetual protester - protesting against poverty, against rationalism, against industrialisation that destroys creativity, against the exploitation of women and children and animals, against the establishment and, particularly, the Established Church."

"There is so much to protest about in our contemporary society. Yet there is also so much that is clean and beautiful and peaceful and that is what I see from my window." 

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