Storeroom2010 is a Cowes charity that provides skills-gap training and saves furniture from landfill. The team also picked up the Business In The Community trophy at the 2016 IW Chamber Awards. Tom Stroud pays them a visit
“Storeroom2010 is all about second chances, for furniture and for people, by giving them additional education,” says Wendy Miller. The business itself has also had a second start, moving to become an independent charity seven years ago. The clue is in the title. Originally a project of the Real World Trust, Storeroom took on a new life when Wendy gave up her job to join her husband Nick to manage the new charity. Nick had already been working on the project since 2000.
Today Storeroom is much more than just a furniture reuse charity. It also provides essential skills-gap education as well as volunteer opportunities, community placements and work experience to those seeking a route to employment.
“The money we raise stays here on the Island, improving lives for Island people, investing in their future prospects,” Nick says. “The Isle of Wight suffers disproportionally with high unemployment and child poverty and our work enables disadvantaged families to affordably furnish their homes, improve their quality of life and keep their dignity.”
Storeroom is based at 1 Mariners Way in Cowes. It’s been here since 2013 and now employs 8 people, including two part time staff. The team also includes up to 20 volunteers who may offer anywhere between a couple of hours to three days each week.
Every day is a busy day for the team, which begins with co-ordinating the van collections and deliveries. From 10am it’s all about selling furniture that might have gone to landfill, often to those in need. More than 50 different agencies refer people to the Storeroom, allowing them to receive additional discounts.
“Our volunteers are a great mix of people,” Wendy says. “Most volunteers are people that are on benefits. Others won’t ever work again because they are retired or have a disability. The older volunteers help the younger ones and give them guidance and help them through difficulties in their everyday life. It’s like a family here.”
That family grew in 2013 when educational coordinator Sue Wendes joined the team. Sue has 20 years of experience, specialising in hard to reach and vulnerable clients. She negotiates training with employers and possible employment opportunities. Storeroom offers skills-gap training to unemployed people in areas that include construction, carpentry, plumbing, tiling and painting. The list will soon include brickwork and horticulture. Work based qualifications in Health and Safety, food hygiene and First Aid are also available. In 2016 Storeroom Education saw 221 learners aged over 18.
“We help people to progress to the next step, whether that’s employment, or providing a social, community based environment where people can learn,” Sue explains. “We provide an environment that people are happy to come to. Most of my clients would struggle in mainstream education. It’s about the way we do it, as well as what we do.”
Storeroom has been significantly funded by Solent Community Grant this year, as well as support from providers including Island Roads, Wight Aid and the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Community Fund.
“We do want to be able to sustain ourselves,” manager Nick Miller says. “We want to grow and develop and we have to pay our own way. It’s a business, not just a way of helping people in need, and we’ve all become retailers now. Increasing our turnover helps us secure education for the long term.”
Last year the team assisted with the re-use of 174,360 kilos of furniture. That’s the equivalent of shifting 5,588 average armchairs and the capacity of their sizable building every three months.
“There’s a lot of furniture that has been saved from landfill and given a second life,” Wendy says. “It’s also helping people who can’t afford to buy new and who need something affordable, with low cost delivery, often the next day. It’s an invaluable service and nobody else offers the variety that we do. Every year we sell more and more furniture. People are donating more and becoming more aware of us. People know that helping us helps other people with education. Whether it’s donating items of furniture, buying furniture or attending a course here, it’s a great circle.”
Earlier this year the team received another helping hand, from TV’s Fred Dinenage who agreed to be their patron after learning about Storeroom when he presented them with the Business In The Community Award at the Chamber’s Business Awards in December. The team are also looking forward to celebrating their seventh anniversary with an open day later this year. It’s validation for the team and for Nick it’s a very personal success.
“When I left school I was really mixed up. I wanted to work but I didn’t have any idea of what I wanted to do. There’s a lot of young people that need focus and to find something that they are good at and to work towards a goal. I’m really passionate about that because I was one of those kids myself.”
It’s a time to celebrate but there’s still a lot more to be done and that means more hard work, as Sue explains.
“It can be quite draining. Our whole existence is based on people giving us permission to be here really. We are constantly fighting to make sure that the infrastructure is there to support other people. People don’t always see that initially but we love it and it’s a passion.”