Furniture Revival's story
People often throw away household items, electrical goods and furniture that are in working use.
As part of its ambitions to become a zero-waste country by 2050 and meet net zero emissions targets, the Welsh Government has produced a strategy to make the circular economy in Wales a reality.
Reusing and recycling furniture and electrical products prevents carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere. According to a Spanish social and environmental organization, reusing just one sofa avoids emitting 90 kilos of carbon dioxide.
Furniture Revival is a 30-year-old green social enterprise owned by Groundwork Wales, which sells good quality, affordable furniture and electrical and white good appliances that are either surplus stock from high-street suppliers, or donations from local people that are too good to throw away.
The project, which is in line with Wales' aim to value resources by keeping them in use, has been working in deprived areas since 1990 - minimising landfill waste while providing affordable second-hand furniture to low-income families. It also generates employment and volunteering opportunities to people in the Upper Rhymney Valley community, including those who feel isolated.
We work with councils to provide a bulk waste collection service and with numerous other charities and local authority organisations, including non-profit housing support organisations United Welsh and Pobl, to help people furnish their homes who may otherwise not be able to.
The project has grown enormously since it was first set up with local authority support as a health and wellbeing project. Today, we are a self-sustaining social enterprise and part of the UK-wide Reuse Network.
Our volunteers are aged 18 to retirement age, though most sit in the 18 to 30s bracket. Those who are younger often join us to gain work experience and qualifications to attain work or move closer to the job market, while those who are older are retired or semi-retired and often want to fill their time constructively or feel connected to a workplace in some way for wellbeing reasons. There are also vulnerable adults who join us to gain valuable life and work experience they may otherwise not access.
Volunteer roles vary from supporting warehouse and fleet management, to testing products, moving, and delivering bulk furniture items, and helping with online and in-person sales.
The project has grown in geographical reach and volunteer numbers. We deliver furniture as far afield as Swansea and our regular volunteer numbers have grown from a maximum of 10 to 40 volunteers in the building at any given time pre-pandemic. We've also had to increase the number of vans we need to transport goods to and from the warehouse, from one to four.
In 2020-21, the project diverted over 9,000 tonnes of furniture and electrical goods from landfill. Those goods helped furnish hundreds of people's homes.
Useful learnings from Furniture Revival
Developing strong relationships with the local community and organisations that support them is key to the success of a project like Furniture Revival.
We have excellent connections with the local job centres and employment support agencies, which signpost many of our volunteers to us.
Maintaining positive relationships with the volunteers who join our programme is also important. The need to know we value the time and skill they contribute to our project. We allocate time to check in with volunteers regularly and are keen to understand what they seek to gain from their time with us so we can support their development. Ultimately, this enterprise couldn't function without them.
While this project has been running for decades, there is always more to learn, and we would recommend bouncing ideas and challenges around with like-minded organisations.
We are part of the Reuse Network, for example, which supports charities and organisations like ourselves across the UK to alleviate poverty, reduce waste, and tackle climate change. Having that communication channel with peers, where we can ask questions, share learning and best practice, is really helpful. There is always something to learn, particularly as we're one of just a handful offering online, as well as in-person, sales.
Introducing an online sales platform to our operation has also been a great asset and something I'd recommend others working in a similar area consider. It's particularly useful in giving those who don't have access to transport or have mobility issues an opportunity to browse and buy items from us.
Online sales have also presented challenges. Selling one-off items simultaneously online and in store can be tricky, for example. When a sale is made in store or online, it's important someone ensures the website is updated or the item is removed from the floor to avoid selling the same thing twice. When you have a small and busy team, there's potential for someone to forget to do that. It can also be time consuming to add products to the site, but it remains an asset nonetheless.
Covid-19 has also presented challenges for Furniture Revival. Before the pandemic struck, we had 40 volunteers, 25 of them regular. Having closed for a period last year due to the restrictions that were implemented, that number naturally fell and has yet to recover to pre-pandemic levels.
Our role in supporting volunteers who may be isolated or vulnerable has never been more important as many found themselves home alone during the early lockdowns.
Finally, time and experience has taught us the importance of choosing the right location for a furniture enterprise like ours. The size of the goods donated and sold means a large and accessible space with good access for delivery vans is important. Don't be distracted by offers of cheap premises – if they're in the wrong place or your customers or van drivers can't access them, then it won't work.
Furniture Revival's metrics
We measure success against several key performance indicators – customer data, such as the number of households donating and buying items, as well as the number of times we delivered items to homes within 48 hours in emergency situations. We measure the number of items we collect and sell, and their weight. And we collect data on our volunteers, such as the number of young people and adults volunteering with us, how many days they do, and the number of jobs or work placements created.