Offering furniture – and hope – to the homeless and needy

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PEOPLE returning furniture they’ve bought is not normally a good sign, but it’s something that gives enormous pride to staff at one furniture store in Spalding.

At South Holland Furniture Recycling Project the staff recognise it as a positive thing because it means the people the charity has helped when they’ve been desperate have managed to improve their circumstances.

“What we do is not just the direct alleviation of poverty, but restoring people’s ability to stand on their own feet,” said Paul Walls, secretary to the board of trustees.

Homelessness in South Holland has increased in the past couple of years – or the recorded cases of people presenting themselves as homeless. While numbers are relatively low compared to larger towns and cities, numbers have increased constantly since 2009/2010 when the figure stood at 51. For the year 2010/2011, the number of homeless rose to 59 and for the first half of the current year – so April to October – 45 people asked for help because they considered themselves homeless, according to figures from South Holland District Council.

Perhaps surprisingly, Paul says: “The majority of our clients are not repeat clients. They come here once. They have to set up a home and most of the people who come here are temporarily in real financial hardship, but they don’t want to stay on financial benefits and we think that’s a great success.”

The way that the furniture recycling charity helps people in real and immediate need was demonstrated by one of the shoppers in the store at the time of our visit. Sue Sharp is a children and family officer for Children’s Services in Spalding and she was shopping for four beds and three cabinets for a mum and her five children.

She said: “The mum was previously homeless and is moving into a property and has no furniture. It’s a great charity. We’d be lost without all charities as we are very much dependent on them now, and people’s goodwill.”

The items Sue had bought came to a total of £100, far less than it would have cost elsewhere.

Project supervisor Lynne Fretwell explained that the charity – set up as an independent charity in 2004 – collects donated furniture from people who are downsizing or replacing items and want to get rid of old, but decent, furniture. It is then sold, at a small cost to cover the running costs, from the project’s headquarters on Little London in Spalding to people on low incomes or people who have been homeless. The project has two members of staff who look after collections and deliveries as well as volunteers.

Clients are mainly referred by organisations, such as South Holland District Council, the Probation Service, chuches or the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, and have a form signed by that agency. However, members of the public also use the service and tend to buy the more expensive items, though staff are on their guard against dealers looking for bargains.

In 2005 the project was collecting furniture from 735 houses and delivering it to 799 homes. In the last financial year, the scheme collected from 884 houses and delivered to 1,293 homes, so the need for the service is obviously growing. A less obvious statistic is that the project is saving an annual average of 80 metric tonnes of furniture going to landfill, which is good news for the environment and for South Holland’s council tax payers in terms of savings on landfill charges and taxes.

As well as furniture, people donate paintings, ornaments and other household items, because as Lynne says: “A bed and table are necessary, but a few pictures on the wall and knick-knacks turns it into a home.”

Having a home complete with furnishings is critically important, believes Paul, who says: “We are helping people regain a bit of confidence and self-esteem. Without a home and the things that go in it and make it a home, and if you are very lucky a caring, loving relationship, how can you participate in anything else? It’s the basis of social life. We do get people who, for obvious reasons, are dependent on benefits and they may be coming back to try and get the things they need. But we have migrant workers who come here because they have a dwelling but nothing to put in it. But as soon as they get established they tend to come and offer the stuff back to us because they have worked and saved to get something better for themselves.”

Donated furniture – and white goods – are always in demand. Get in touch on 01775 711171 if you have items to donate. The store is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays (10am to 3pm) and alternative Saturdays (10am to 1pm) up to Christmas for a trial period.