This is an idea that I put forward at Make:Shift 2013. It is where we would have a cooperative business to make new items of furniture out of materials that are thrown away in great quantities.
What we need:
Local designers and makers with the skills to lead such a venture.
The materials to make new items with and tools
A large unit like a warehouse so that it could operate on a large scale.
In terms of the people, I am certain it would not be difficult to find designers and makers in this city. Those people would work as a cooperative so that there is no hierarchy but each person is of an equal status where they have a equal say in the decisions made. This reflects the social value of what I would like to help develop – it follows the principles of doing things the way we would like them to be done. Each partner should share in the successes of the business as this brings the motivation to make sure it is doing well. The already skilled workers should also train people as apprentices. We got ideas from the people who attended the session that included helping the homeless, those with disabilities, youths, students, refugees, etc. This would help raise the profile of this venture if the public see it as having a real value in society. It could also be registered as a charity or a Community Interest Company, the first of which would help reduce the business rates owed. There is already a similar venture in London, The Living Furniture Project which has apprenticeships for the homeless and could be linked with for guidance to set up one in Wolverhampton.
For the materials, the point is that there is an abundance of usable items that are thrown out by the public and taken off sale by companies. It would essentially mean these costs would be minimal. Of course things like screws and brackets would need to be bought but these are generally cheap. I already have a connection with CT Home (part of Community Transport) in Bilston which is a charity that sells unwanted furniture cheaply but has a lot more than it can store and the manager has told me they could help out with obtaining materials.
I would push for donations of tools from the public and companies (possibly abandoned factories) as much as possible to reduce to the start-up costs.
The place needed would be the more difficult issue. We could contact the council to see if they have a warehouse available. It could also mean the council could be stakeholders in the business and earn money from renting it, which would be useful in this time when the government are cutting the council’s funding by L98 million in the next 5 years.
Other possible places to ask include Carillion, a local construction company that is committed to sustainable development.
As mentioned above, we should look at how we could make all the conditions the best possible. By rejecting the idea of a management team separate to the workers, we begin with fairness, equality and no chance of exploitation. The message that we should get across to the public is one of providing a service to people who need the most support, hence training people mentioned above. If the public know it is committed to helping people to develop their lives, they are more likely to choose to buy from this enterprise.
The designing of furniture nurtures creativity, which I believe is essential to the development of well-being. The only limit is our imagination. This can also be used to create bespoke furniture. It is not so typical that people can go to a furniture store and order something to fit an exact space and to their exact tastes (for a good price) but we can provide this service if everything is made on site.
In terms of the client base, it should aim to attract as many people as possible, which means having a diverse range of styles available. This also feeds the imagination of the designers and makers. As the cost of materials would be minimal, we could sell the items at affordable prices. We need to be able to compete with the big businesses that outsource their products to give the customers a real option to buy more ethically.
So this is the outline of the idea. Of course there are many details to take into account but if you are interested in being a part of it or would like to offer advice about setting it up, please get in touch at . I would like to hold another meeting in the near future if enough people show interest.