Fareham charity breathes new life into furniture – and people

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My pride of place used to be the head of the table. My oak legs stood firm for family dinners, my cushioning provided the comfort at catch up lunches and I really came into my own over Christmas.

But those days are long gone.

From left, Vince Wymss, Barry Haines, Scarlett Hart, Abbey Lancaster, Yvonne Fornalski, Jenny Francis and Paul Robinson and the Junk to Funk workshop, Fareham

From left, Vince Wymss, Barry Haines, Scarlett Hart, Abbey Lancaster, Yvonne Fornalski, Jenny Francis and Paul Robinson and the Junk to Funk workshop, Fareham

Now I have scuff marks, a rip in my cover and a wobbly leg.

It is a sad day as my family loads me into a van to take me away. The journey does not take very long but as the engine judders and cuts out I feel useless.

The doors open and instead of the dump I was expecting to see, I am greeted with a group of people and a bright art studio.

Just like me, this group is getting a new lease of life.

From left, Barry Haines, Vince Wymss and Yvonne Fornalski at work. Junk to Funk workshop

From left, Barry Haines, Vince Wymss and Yvonne Fornalski at work. Junk to Funk workshop

Junk to Funk workshops provide the opportunity for those on benefits and people with disabilities to gain confidence and skills for employment.

Paul Robinson, from charity Learning Links, has run courses around Hampshire including in their warehouse in Portchester and the 53-year-old is currently running four week courses in Unit3 Studio in Fareham.

He says: ‘These courses are for people who are on benefits or who are disabled and don’t hold GCSE qualifications. It gives them a chance to get some skills for employment and is a real confidence boost.

‘We see people really come out of their shells as the course goes along and in the first session in the one I am running at the moment barely anybody spoke, but now I can’t get them to shut up!’

Vince Wymss and Yvonne Fornalski discuss details of re-upholstering a cushion

Vince Wymss and Yvonne Fornalski discuss details of re-upholstering a cushion

Hampshire  Futures provides the charity with the funding for the courses and the chairs come from a charity called Furnish. The charity has a warehouse in Portchester  and  collects  used goods with the aim of diverting  as much as they can from landfill.

Paul adds: ‘We have teamed up this time with Unit3 Studio which is supported by South East Hampshire Community Organisation and they have kindly allowed us to use their studio to put on the free workshops.

‘Everyone working together on something like this is really important, especially as funding can be tight.  But I believe this course is really important and makes a difference to people’s lives.’

Heather Haynes joined the course after seeing a colourful flyer in a local centre. The reformed alcoholic wanted a chance to learn something new.

Jenny Francis at the Junk to Funk workshop

Jenny Francis at the Junk to Funk workshop

She says: ‘I have been out of work for quite a  long time after having an accident due to alcoholism. Tthis left me unable to walk properly for a long time and unfortunately I  still have to use a chair a lot of the time.’

Heather has now been sober for two and a half years.

She says: ‘The idea that I could have some free fun and gain new skills in a supportive team of two was just down my alley. So I wrote Paul’s number down and rang a couple of days later.’

The very next week Heather was off to her first class in a taxi paid for to get to the studio in Fareham.

She explains: ‘It was a small class that day as some people had let Paul down, but he reassured us and we cracked on. 

‘The room has a very relaxed, no pressure, easy-going feel to it. And a printed notes pack was placed in our sweaty little palms containing relevant information to the course.’

Sanding, upholstery, mixing colour palettes, safe gluing and decorative techniques are just some of the skills Heather and others have been taught.

She adds: ‘They have the freedom of going around us individually or as a group which is great, they give you tips and skills that work better than your own.

‘The best thing for me was the support and company, the feeling of self worth because I had created something.

‘You are not judged and it is not even tied in with the job centre but can be used on your job searches and your C V.

‘Junk to Funk is the best course I have been on in a long time and I can’t wait to go again to finish my chair and see the others.’ 

Fareham resident Steve Burns recently completed one of the workshops.

He says: ‘The course was only four weeks in total but enough was learned by those attending to carry on upcycling unwanted pieces of furniture and turn them into keepsakes or sellable items.

‘I cannot recommend it highly enough and hopefully in the near future an extended course could become a reality.’

Fellow attendee Jenny Francis adds: ‘For me it is about joining in with like-minded people and trying a new thing with thoughts of maybe going further with it.

‘It has taught me a new skill and it has taught me to communicate with other people. It is the thought process of meeting other people and being able to talk about things.’

Paul also  took the workshops to Hollybank Adult Mental Health Unit in Havant and worked with a group of patients along with his colleague Margaret Chapman.

Senior occupational therapist Debbie Wilson says: ‘Although normally run in their warehouse in Portchester, Paul and Margaret were willing to set up a course in our unit and the Junk to Funk  workshops have been a unique and amazing experience for our patients.

‘It is such a confidence boost to learn something new in a relaxed environment and to be able to see the fruits of their labour.

‘Everyone gets to keep the chair they’ve upcycled and receives a certificate.

‘I really can’t thank Paul and Margaret enough for this wonderful opportunity they’ve given us.’

So the message here is clear, no matter how many splinters, scuff marks and rips you have, there is nothing a lick of paint can’t help.