I work here in Emmaus Dover. I’ve been doing upholstery for 11 years now, since 2011, and when I started I was only doing it on a part time basis: I was still on job seekers allowance at the time, and also looking for a way as setting myself up as a self-employed business person.

Upholstery covers everything from antique to modern. There are things I can’t do for example commercial car upholstery as requires more specific tools, my focus mainly is on domestic pieces.

I studied upholstery at college for a few years, from 2002-2010. I was taught by a gentleman who was self-employed and worked one day a week as a tutor. In 2011 I decided to make a start of it, and  to begin with I was only doing 15 hours a week. I wanted to give it a go, so I got involved with the Prince’s Trust, and after a couple of years got my business off the ground. I was in a position to go full time in 2013.

I first came to Emmaus Dover in January 2009. I knew the daughter of the community leader at the time who was on the same college course as me, and she said “My Mum runs this place called Emmaus Dover which helps homeless people, do you want to visit?” At the time I just thought it was a shop, I didn’t realise it was a community. So I said yeah, I’ll come and have a look, I wanted to take a look at some chairs they had in the shop. I was surprised that it wasn’t just a charity shop, they had a few different antique pieces, and I was walking around saying, “yep, that’s Victorian era, that’s late Victorian, that pair of chairs is Edwardian.” After that I started coming up periodically and then from June 2009 I started working as a volunteer, firstly in the shop and then the warehouse, and I came up to see the upholstery room. There was a man doing upholstery here before, at a basic level, but he’d got a job and moved on so this room became vacant. It was absolutely chocca with furniture, and I got to work immediately.

It was a gradual process building up the business, and although so much has changed over the years I’m still here at Emmaus Dover.

My favourite pieces I’m working on at the moment are these Sheraton style chairs, they’re about 230 years old, and made in Ireland in the finest mahogany hardwood. They’ve been in the same family since they were first made in the 1700s.

Over the years I’ve been here I’ve said with companions and volunteers that if they want to learn upholstery I’m happy to do it. The first person who expressed an interest was one of my friends Tim, who came here in late 2012. He came here to do some voluntary work, as he was unemployed at the time and wanted something to do. The first companion who did upholstery with me was a chap called Adam, about three years ago. He’s moved on from the community now, but he learned with me for a while. I start with the basics, and the first thing he made was a bench which he painted, and I showed him how to upholster a basic seat for it. He said he found it really fantastic, he said that of all the things he’d been learning since joining Emmaus Dover this was the thing he found most fascinating, and really enjoyed engaging with the work. It gives you something to focus and concentrate on, and at the end you have this end result that you can look at and say, I did that. He was with me for the best part of 3-4 months doing it before he moved on. Fast-forward to now, I have two companions currently training with me. Adrian has some health issues, so we work on projects that aren’t too intense on his wrists. So far, he’s been working with me since January and he loves it. He’s done about four pieces with me, and much of the work he does will end up in the Archcliffe shop or our ebay shop. I also have a chap called Andy who started a couple of weeks after Adrian, and he’s done about seven chairs. It’s been brilliant working with them both. Many years ago Andy used to working in a fabric factory, so he already knew about textiles and upholstery fabrics specifically, things like flame retardancy and compliancy with fire safety regulations. He’s great at selecting the appropriate fabrics for the pieces. Both he and Adrian have a design flair. I said to him, you’re a bit like me, you have the same thought-pattern and attention to detail.

Although I’m an independent tradesman now, I’m also still a volunteer at the community. Being here is a real bonus because I’ve never been fantastic at the finance side of things, and having the stability of this space from day one has been so brilliant for my business. It’s great to have the comradeship with the staff and the companions, and seeing the empowerment of the companions that they get through training. It’s not just about me giving something to the companions, but it really gives me a lot too. It’s just a real family-like atmosphere, if anyone needs help with something they’ll ask me, and that’s great.