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Sonian Wood Cooperative opens first pop-up warehouse for local timber

llustration picture shows trees in the Sonian Forest (Zonienwoud - Foret de Soignes) in Brussels. (BELGA PHOTO SISKA GREMMELPREZ)
10:17 12/10/2020

Wood collected from the Sonian Forest is now for sale from a warehouse in Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, a first major step in the Sonian Wood Cooperative’s mission to keep Brussels wood in Belgium rather than exporting it to Asia, as is the case for more than 75% of the trees grown for the timber industry in the forest.

The warehouse, situated at the Circularium business centre on Rue Heyvaert, houses raw wood from mainly beech and oak trees but also from other species such as robinia and softwoods.

“All the wood you see here comes from real windfalls, that is, fallen trees after storms, not felled trees,” said Stephan Kampelmann, ULB circular economics researcher and founding member of the Sonian Wood Cooperative. “We sawed them, dried them and now they can now be offered to the carpentry sector in Brussels.”

Being able to supply wood from the forest to local businesses was the first challenge the cooperative set itself. "At first we were told that this was not possible with the global economy,” said Kampelman. “The challenge was to remove that first doubt. Was it doable or not? It was the hardest step to overcome.”

"Now we have an ecosystem of partners working together to make this local sector exist, we’re creating a local value chain," he adds.

The Sonian Wood Cooperative will not rest on its laurels, despite this achievement. “We want to make an impact,” said Kampelman. “This is not a symbolic or anecdotal gesture, keeping three trees here while the rest continues to go to China. We want the wood to stay here. This means more investment in inventory, machinery.”

The cooperative hopes to buy 200 to 300m³ of wood this winter and continue to find partners to support and expand the project.

The Sonian Wood Pop Up warehouse is open to everyone, although it is likely to be more of an interest to carpenters or architects looking to utilise local materials in their work.

"More and more architects today are thinking about their project according to the materials available,” said Géry Leloutre, architect, urban planner and teacher at the Faculty of Architecture at the ULB, who attended the opening of the warehouse on Saturday.

“It is a much more artisanal relationship where the material really becomes one of the elements of creation, a part of the architectural composition in the most noble sense.”

“If you have floorboards in your home and you know that they come from the Sonian Forest, it’s different from having floorboards that you don’t know where they come from,” added Stephan Kampelmann.

“Maybe they have been cut in an environmentally disastrous way - who knows, the chances are they have been. So, it’s a way to create a better relationship with the materials that we have around us in our lives."

The store is open on Wednesdays (other days by appointment), at least until the end of the year.

Written by Nick Amies