Many’s the time you’ve found treasure in a skip – old penny-lick ice cream glasses, nearly-new desk chairs, or a bundle of brilliant kindling. But some people in Hackney are finding a whole new trade in amongst Hackney’s junk furniture.
Restoration Station is a social enterprise with a small workshop on Shoreditch High Street stocked with vintage and antique furniture that is made, restored and sold by people recovering from an addiction.
It is run by Spitalfields Crypt Trust (SCT), an East London charity that supports people recovering from addiction, and exists through grants, furniture donations and the work of volunteers.
“Before I came in here I had put a few flat packs together but it’s really not the same thing – not even close,” says Paul, 42, a recovering alcoholic.
Paul lives above Restoration Station in SCT accommodation. He moved there about year ago after sleeping rough, and started to learn woodworking through Restoration Station last November.
He had some experience in the building trade but none in woodwork. Now he can cut wood to measure, restore furniture, and undertake commissions, and he has been working with customers on the shop floor
“Six months ago I wouldn’t have agreed to be interviewed for a newspaper – absolutely no confidence there at all,” Paul confides.
“I’ve been using tools all my life, so that’s not much of an issue, but the main difficulty is actually dealing with people. At one point I just wouldn’t go near people. Now I can at least talk to them. I’m not exactly fond of it yet but I’m not running away from it either.”
But how can working with furniture help with recovering from alcoholism?
“It’s part of the therapy to get out and do things,” Paul explains. “It’s not good for people tovolunteers be isolated so they encourage people to come down here as much as they can be sociable and just get involved.
“Everyone here was welcoming because you’re all in the same boat one way or another. Everybody’s been through roughly the same sort of experiences. It took me a while to get used to the people here but once you do it’s good.”
The furniture in the shop tends towards vintage styles, particularly furniture from the 1950s, 60s and 70s, with some G Plan and Ercol. New stock comes in once a fortnight. The shop can manage commissions, such as restoring furniture from eBay or car boot sales, and has also done work for local businesses. The shop stocks bookshelves (from £70), tables (from £60), chairs (from £15 a pair) and mirrors as well as vintage accessories such as suitcases and porcelain jugs.
Bernard, 48, co-founded Restoration Station after he volunteered to teach carpentry and woodworking on the SCT’s skills programme. He has a long association with Hackney, being born in the old Salvation Army Mother’s Hospital in Clapton and going to school at London Fields Primary. Bernard’s father was a carpenter and he has been undertaking voluntary work in the local area for over 10 years.
“I fell in love with the job,” he recalls. “It’s not all just about woodwork – it’s the students. Watching them grow has been an amazing process.
“The main ethos for me is that it’s about recovery, watching the students become volunteers, get more experience and just growing in their recovery, confidence building. It’s just wonderful to see. Of course financially we need to bring a bit of money in, but for me it’s always been about other people and their recovery.
“There’s one student who’s a volunteer now and when she first started, she was nervous about even cutting a piece of wood in half and didn’t want to make a mistake. Two weeks ago I said to the manager, come and have a look. She was just sawing a piece of wood without thinking about it.”
Paul is starting a plumbing course this month and credits the SCT and the woodworking course for supporting him. “The SCT is great,” he says, “I’ve got a lot of gratitude towards them. I don’t know where I’d be now without them.”