Refurnish is changing the face of second-hand furniture shops, benefiting the environment, the volunteers and employees, and the customers. We speak with David, Chief Executive, about the charity and the fantastic things they do.
Second-hand furniture isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but for many it’s a lifeline when an empty house needs furnishing on a near-empty wallet. ReFurnish has branches dotted around Devon, all within easy reach of Plymouth, and their warehouses are brimming with goods which are available to all.
At the Wrangaton branch we met David, who is the Chief Executive of the charity, and he was keen to show us around.
The warehouse is full with unwanted sofas, beds and wardrobes, with a treasure trove of clothes, trinkets, records and bikes stretching across the back wall under a mezzanine floor. Everything is donated and for sale at very affordable prices – one price is standard, another is at a discount for anyone with proof of low income or benefit. Many sofas cost less than £30.
People in need may also be referred by the local council through crisis funds, but helping those struggling to make a house a home isn’t the charity’s only objective.
“You’re helping the environment by reusing things instead of buying things new, and you’re also helping to create employment and volunteer opportunities,” David explains. Proceeds from sales helps the charity to grow, support activites and continue making employment opportunities.
A lot of furniture and other unwanted household goods end up at landfill, and most of it is in great, reusable condition, but ReFurnish will collect items for free. They will then be bought and reused in a loving home, usually by a family who will really appreciate your donation.
Another important objective for David is offering volunteering and job opportunities to those who would benefit. “It’s really hard for people who don’t have much confidence or support needs to find something to do where they feel comfortable. I’ve worked with a lot of people who find going out the door to be intimidating. I am aware of the issues faced by people who experience social exclusion, depression, mental ill-health, learning disabilities or loneliness and need a reason to get up in the mornings and get out of the house.
“In an ideal world I would like to get the elderly involved because they have valuable skills and experience that they could share with younger volunteers.”
“If people want to volunteer they can call the head office or their local branch, then they would come in for a chat with the manager of that shop, followed by an application form and see how they can help. If somebody can only manage a few hours a week initially, that’s fine, although we also welcome people who can commit regularly for longer periods.
“I am currently working on a funding bid to develop a furniture upcycling and repair workshop so we can help people increase their feeling of wellbeing whilst learning new skills in a more structured way than our current smaller workshops.”
David has a background in accounts, teaching, youth and community and care work, which helps him to manage his team of volunteers at ReFurnish. “I was previously working in the care industry for about 12 years, and although, people were housed, had money and were receiving medication, they were often spending their days staring at the walls. To have a chance of getting well people need something meaningful to do.”
For David, helping people into work and reducing waste to landfill is a brilliant and rewarding combination. He’s put a lot of effort into securing funding to improve the charity further, and those efforts continue to this day.
Also Refurnish is planning to increase their branches especially north of Devon to create greater economies of scale and reduce the gaps between branches for easier sharing of resources. To help the developments mentioned, Refurnish is seeking volunteers with suitable skills to be Trustees and strengthen the board of the charity.
In Dartington you’ll find The ReSTORE, which is a project combining the skills of local upcycling artists and volunteers to recreate and rejuvenate donated furniture and goods. These items can then be sold in the shop for a better price which goes back into the charity. Drop-in sessions include furniture repair, upholstery, wild weaving and looming, and David is looking to spread upcycling to other branches. Upcycling is the art of increasing the value of something by transforming it, usually by sanding wood, using paint, varnishing and re-building.
“Once again it’s all mixed objectives. What we want to do is take things that people don’t want, and repair and remake it into something new to sell, giving it a new life. At the moment most of the donations we take are put straight into the warehouse for sale, but we’d like to spend time on the furniture and make other things with it.”
There is a constant flow of items coming and going at the warehouse, with vans running from the Wrangaton branch four days a week. David tells us though that they’re often short of chests of drawers and bookshelves, simply because they’re so popular.
“It’s totally unpredictable what we get in and what’s in demand.
“Our Crediton branch has had various interesting donations such a leather World War II flying helmet with goggles.
“I once found an oil painting that someone put in the scrap because it had a rip in it, but I put it into auction and got £80 for it. And in Dartington they found a picture that had another picture underneath it, and that sold at auction too.”
It seems that if you love a good treasure hunt, ReFurnish could be a great place to visit. The bric-a-brac is stacked high, and something which someone else has given away could be something you love. We spotted antique Singer sewing machines, delicate decorative bowls and skirts made with Liberty of London fabric during our visit.
If you’re after something on a larger scale and need to furnish a home, there’s plenty to suit every taste and budget. From brightly painted shelving units, to hefty wooden beds and drinks cabinets, these warehouses hold everything you might need.
The Wrangaton branch is open Tues – Sat, 9am to 5pm
Find them at: Unit 2B Wrangaton Business Park,Wrangaton, Devon, TQ10 9GQ
Other branches: Buckfastleigh | Crediton | Dartington (The ReSTORE) | Newton Abbot | Tavistock | Totnes