Feature Mondays - Out of the Dark archive

Monday 30 June 2014

We take a look at the thriving furniture restoration charity, Out of the Dark

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Out of the Dark is a charitable social enterprise, based in High Wycombe - the once epicentre of British furniture manufacturing. The aim of Out of the Dark is to recycle, restore and revamp salvaged furniture in order to train, educate and employ young people who may come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The charity, although at a distance looks to be simply a craft charity, aims to build the confidence and develop self-esteem in the young people it takes on, through teaching them creative and practical skills and giving them an education in business and life skills. Out of the Dark helps its young members to become more confident in themselves and in being able to achieve their full potential. It also acts as a transition into the world of work, from that of school. Its members take on the tasks of restoring old, discarded furniture.

The founders

Jay and Jade Blades, who met at Bucks New University, founded the charity. While attending Bucks New University, Jay studied a BSc in Criminology and Philosophy and Jade, a BA in Textiles Design and Art. Jay and Jade started running youth projects while studying and have managed to build a charity that is supported by a board of trustees, volunteers and 13 ex-project participants, who are now paid workers for them. Out of the Dark is an extension to 'Street Dreams', a charity that Jay and Jade have been running together for the past 13 years. As Out of the Dark is a family-run charity, there is also an aim to create an extended family atmosphere with the young people the couple train.

Jay and Jade were inspired to begin their charities due to their own personal experiences of rebellion and hardship in teenage years, coupled with their professional backgrounds in building, carpentry, interior and textile design, which have certainly combined to make a successful project that supports young people in achieving a better life and steering them away from crime.

The charity aims to salvage as much furniture as possible and to recycle it through renovation. By salvaging iconic pieces of furniture, Out of the Dark not only lessens the amount of CO2 emissions and amount of rubbish in landfill sites, it is also giving the furniture a new lease of life that will extend the history for new generations to savour.

The levels

The charity takes on young people and workers in three stages: Level 1 is through a 'Referral scheme'. This takes place during term-time, for those young people who are not doing very well academically. They will enter the project to learn practical and life skills: they will learn basic skills in DIY and furniture restoration. During the school holidays, families can refer their children to Out of the Dark's holiday projects, where they will be involved in learning skills, embellishing a piece of furniture to take home and they can have fun in a safe environment, while learning.

The next level up - Level 2 - is into a 'Trainee scheme'. The young people in this level are 'head hunted' from Out of the Dark's various other projects, to become trainees for 3-6 months. They volunteer their time to learn more specific and expert skills in furniture restoration, design and business. It is an 'apprentice' style scheme, where those taking part can compete against each other and by the end of this scheme, up to five young people will be taken on as paid employees.

The final level - level 3 - is under 'Supported employment'. Those young people who show promise and commitment on the 'Trainee scheme' are then given an opportunity to climb up the ladder within the charity and become paid employees. They will start off at the minimum wage, but they could work their way up to being paid £10 an hour, and then paid through 'piecework' - paid per piece that they finish on time. The charity clearly offers great opportunities for those who may be from a less fortunate background.

Out of the Dark also offers students/graduates who may have come from sixth form, college or university the chance to do work experience or internships, as well as welcoming retired or practising craftspeople to share their skills, knowledge and expertise, to ensure their craft is handed down the generations. One of their oldest volunteers was 92, who taught them chair caning: "he was a wonderful guy, who two of the lads visited weekly at his old people's home. They not only learned the dying craft, but he also shared some really fun stories about his time as a police officer in the 1940s!"

The numbers

In the past three years, Out of the Dark has worked with 48 young people on the practical side of the project. Nine of these people went on to full-time jobs, six are carrying on in full-time education, 12 are currently on the project as trainees and five of them are now paid workers on the project.

Out of the Dark has also had 32 people volunteering on the project's business side. The people taking part in the charity are from a wide variety of backgrounds and ages: some are at school, some are university graduates and some are professionals. They welcome those of all ages and experience in the craft, but it is also open to referrals from schools, the police, social services, other agencies and families.

Stock

Out of the Dark sell their designs and creations in various different ways. Some stock they sell through their online store, most revamped and redesigned, but some is available unpainted and untouched. They also have a workshop, showroom and stock warehouse, open Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. If you do plan on a visit, then they suggest a quick ring or email beforehand. Not only do Out of the Dark sell from their own store, but they also sell through various others shops, such as Farrow & Ball, Day True, Homage and Muddy Stilettoes.

Events

If you are interested in seeing some of Out of the Dark's work, they hold and take part in events around the UK - mostly in the London area. They held a guided tour and presentation at their workshop on 25 April, 2014, showcasing various pieces of furniture and homewares in collaboration with designers at May Design Series at ExCel, London and at Clerkenwell Design Week, and will be holding a workshop on 'Revamp your old furniture' at Fabrications at Broadway Market in London on 14 June, 2014.

Working with others Out of the Dark works with a number of local and national charities, located in and around the city of London. They not only help them to develop Jay and Jade's charity, but also support their own social activities with Out of the Dark. The charity offers companies volunteering opportunities, to have the outside charities mentor the Out of the Dark members in different areas of business and management, or to send the outside charities a group, to take on practical projects, such as painting with them at the workshop. They offer team-building away days, where they use designing and making as fun, educational and motivational activities for groups of up to 15 people. And finally, Out of the Dark are more than happy to receive donations for tools, equipment, materials and training aids from outside help. Click here for more information.


Briony Darnley

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Feature Mondays , Out of the Dark



Contact Details

Tel: 01494 550 286