Furniture reuse charity brings social and environmental boost to Isle of Wight
As the Resources and Waste Strategy draws closer to publication, with hope from industry that it will provide a framework for government action to rejuvenate flagging recycling rates, it is important to remember the place of reuse in the UK’s suite of waste management and reduction measures, especially when projects can bring both environmental and social benefits.
Set up in 2010, Storeroom2010 is a reuse charity and member of the Reuse Network on the Isle of Wight. It was founded by Nick and Wendy Miller as a way to improve the lives of people living on the island and to divert reusable furniture from landfill.
Several areas of the Isle of Wight have disproportionately high rates of unemployment and child poverty. In order to combat this, Nick and Wendy set up Storeroom2010 with two business units: Storeroom Furniture, from 2010, and Storeroom Education, from 2014.
The first arm of the charity collects donated furniture that would otherwise be thrown away and sells it at a reduced price to low-income and marginalised families and individuals across the island. The second was set up to provide disadvantaged people with training in trades based skills such as carpentry and joinery.
The charity relies on the hard work of volunteers, which was recognised with the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in June 2017, said to be the ‘MBE for voluntary groups’.
The road to Storeroom2010
Storeroom2010 came out of Nick’s involvement with Real World Trust, a charity helping people with drug and alcohol problems get back on their feet and find accommodation. “A lot of the time we were setting up people with a flat that was empty, and this is what leads to problems,” says Nick. “We stepped in and Real World Trust gave us the opportunity to set up a small stock of approximately 50 pieces of furniture to help people, and from that Storeroom started to grow.”
A feasibility study was undertaken in 2002 to see whether the public would respond to requests for donated furniture, which they did in their droves, and two years later the Storeroom Project was launched. In 2006, new funding was acquired, allowing the project to move into a warehouse. However, this funding dried up in 2010.
Nick, unwilling to let go of the work that had built up over the previous years, often picked up furniture and dropped it off to people who needed it across the island armed with just a Honda van, mobile phone and a notebook. He turned to Wendy, who agreed they should carry it on, on their own.
The growth of the enterprise since then has been rapid, as Wendy attests: “We took it from a loss to covering our own way in six months, running it like a business rather than a charity. We applied for charity status and became a limited company, doing all the right things from the beginning and it’s just grown and grown – it just makes you wonder what would otherwise have happened to all these interesting and useful things that people give us!”
Storeroom has certainly had a big role in preventing waste by saving furniture from landfill. In 2017, Storeroom2010 sold 179.58 tonnes of furniture and collected 178.56 tonnes from the community, passing on nearly all of what was collected. This equates to 15,914 items of furniture, with 5,447 households benefiting from access to affordable items.
The Storeroom Education arm of the charity, which closed in April 2018, provided a great social benefit to people on the Isle of Wight, supporting 678 learners during the time it was in operation, with 526 gaining Nationally accredited qualifications in carpentry & joinery, first aid and health and safety in construction.
A big factor in Storeroom2010’s success has been the investment received from social impact funding organisation Social and Sustainable Capital (SASC) and the Power to Change grant, which allowed Nick and Wendy to purchase the warehouse where Storeroom stored its furniture. The decision to make the purchase came in a bid to avoid rising rents; however, the deposit required proved prohibitive, and so the couple turned to social investment after seeing an advert for SASC.
As Wendy explains: “Social investment was really our last resort. If we had lost the building, we would have struggled to find anywhere else as there is a lack of warehouses big enough for what we do on the island. If we were unable to get funding, it may well have been the end of the charity as we didn’t want to be exposed to ever increasing rent.”
After filling in the application online and working with SASC throughout the application process, Nick and Wendy were able to gain a fixed loan through the Community Investment Fund of £285,000 to be repaid over 15 years, as well as a grant of £80,000 from Power to Change, which made the finance package feasible.
Commenting on their experience of accessing social investment, Nick says: “It has given us real peace of mind to know how much we will be paying for the next 15 years, with all our monthly payments remaining the same. It makes it easier to plan for the future, which if we had still been renting would have been more difficult to do.”
The work goes on
Storeroom2010 shows no sign of slowing down, launching its latest community project in April 2018 following the closure of Storeroom Education. Cowes Men’s Shed, members of the UK Men’s Shed Association, provides a community space where men (and women) can converse and socialise in a bid to combat loneliness and provides an opportunity to build social connections.
Projects like Storeroom2010 demonstrate the opportunities of reuse to provide not just an environmental benefit, but also a social one, providing help to those that need it and encouraging a network of sharing and support that fosters a strong community ethos. With social investment available, getting projects off the ground doesn’t have to be such a daunting task, and with a work ethic like that of Nick and Wendy Miller, those promoting reuse can make great things happen.