Furniture upcycling scheme set to help Thirteen customers

A talented team of restorers and recyclers are set to help turn houses into homes for customers who need a little extra help and support.

Upcycling 1

20 Sep 2022

Thirteen, has assembled a specialist upcycling squad to recondition donated and once-loved furniture, before giving it away to customers who have low incomes, lost possessions fleeing dangerous circumstances or have previously been homeless.

The project, launched at the company’s recycling centre in Billingham, has already supported many families and is also helping reduce waste – with the UK discarding around 1.6million tonnes of furniture and bulky waste, most of which goes to landfill every year. This includes a staggering 22 million pieces of furniture.

The Thirteen upcycling department is led by recycling centre manager Helen Beaman, and new recruits, upcycling coordinator Rhys Baker and upcycling operative Katie Forde.

Helen said: “So many of our customers are having to reassess household spending, with the ongoing rises of the cost of living.

“The upcycling scheme has two huge benefits – it helps customers currently facing such severe financial challenges furnish their homes with clean, restored and attractive furniture and prevents hundreds of tonnes of unwanted furniture going to landfill.”

It’s so important that everyone thinks about what happens to their unwanted items and furniture. Upcycling helps to create a circular economy, with materials re-used instead of them being turned into waste after one single use. This benefits the planet because it’s about being creative and using quality materials which we already have, rather than creating new products out of new materials, therefore preserving natural resources and reducing carbon emissions.

“Thirteen is aiming to reduce our waste by 95% and this proactive approach to reducing, reusing, and recycling unwanted items will be a huge boost to our efforts,” added Helen.

The recycling centre is just one of the many ways the company is working to reduce waste, in line with the organisation’s pledge to protect the environment, and achieve its goals, in line with the government’s target of 100 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.

With an important part to play in helping to achieve this target, Thirteen has set its ambition to reach net zero carbon by 2035 on its direct business emissions.

The facility, which is the first of its kind among northern housing associations has seen the upcycling team transform the warehouse from an empty storage space to a workshop stocked with a wealth of material, upholstery, soft furnishings area and a woodwork and metal workshop.

Rhys, a photography and art teacher for almost 20 years before working in special needs and the charities sector, was attracted to the role at Thirteen as it offered the chance to help people in genuine need. He said: “People often leave items behind in our empty properties when they move on and some of it is prime for upcycling. We take it, clean it, then add the materials, repairs and love that is required to give it a new lease of life.

The upcycling team is also creating “starter packs” for customers, with essential items for those who need a little extra help to get their tenancies started comfortably from day one.  

“It is estimated that 400,000 children in the UK do not have their own bed, and beds and wardrobes are by far the most requested item. We have provided beds, sofas, chairs, dressers, tables and also things that may be classed as “non-essential”, like mirrors, soft furnishings and pictures. Things that really make a house a home.”

Katie, a creative graduate from the Chelsea College of Art, who is passionate about making a positive difference to the lives of customers, had been working in e-commerce before joining Thirteen. She said: “To take something that was clearly once loved and restore it to a point that it can be again is incredibly satisfying.

“We have upcycled furniture that is beautiful, functional, absolutely ancient and practically new, but every bit of it has left our warehouse destined for someone whose life it will improve and with the added benefit of it not ending up in landfill.”