For the fourth instalment in our series of special reports to celebrate Furniture Mine’s 30th Anniversary, we spoke to Iris Barcroft, who helped set up Furniture Mine…

“I can’t believe it’s been 30 years and we still need a Furniture Mine – it says a lot, doesn’t it? We never dreamt that 30 years on, it would still be needed so badly.

Over the years I’ve seen it change dramatically from its humble beginnings. From a couple of small storage units to the massive place they have now.

Solving a common problem

I was involved right from the start. I was the manager of a local social housing organisation at the time, and quite often people would contact me to offer a bed or a three piece suite. I had nowhere to store such things, so I’d have to say no. Then, a couple of weeks later, we’d be rehousing a family who were desperate for furniture, and it was very frustrating.

Then I attended a meeting with people from various organisations in the local area. I remember airing my frustration about the furniture issue and everybody was saying that they had experienced the same problem. We decided to try and do something about it.

I became Vice-Chair of our group, with local minister Rikki Twigg as the first Chair. We visited a few similar projects to see how they operated, and then we started talking to the local authority, social services, the health authority and other housing associations. We actually raised about £50,000 to start us off and rented a storage unit in Burslem. We hired a manager, admin worker and a driver; the rest of the operation was run by volunteers from the Salvation Army.

We got really busy

Social workers and health visitors started to refer people that they knew were in need. We got really busy, and quickly realised we needed more space, so that was when we moved to a larger location in Stoke. As we grew, we added an electrical workshop so we could test donated items before passing them on and we started repairing furniture too.

I stayed in my role as Vice-Chair for many years, and then took over as Chair.

Furniture Mine has hit hard times over the years, but we got through each bumpy patch. There was a period about 20 years ago when our funding was drying up, so we decided to start selling some of the furniture to make money to plough back into the charity. That’s when the shop element was added.

Aspire Housing got involved with Furniture Mine to help out during a period when funding cuts were looming. That was an amazing breakthrough. They eventually secured a lease on the building that Emmaus Furniture Mine is still using today.

Furniture Mine today

I retired as Chair six years ago, but I’m still very passionate about Furniture Mine and make sure I keep in touch. It’s exciting to see Emmaus come in and push the project forward.

It’s great to think about all those items of furniture that have been saved from going to landfill over the years, and instead they’ve gone to people who needed them. It is still thrilling to think of and I’m grateful to Emmaus for their part in carrying it on.”

Now run by Emmaus North Staffs and renamed the ‘Furniture Home & Warehouse’, the enterprise has grown to become the largest furniture and household charity shop in North Staffordshire located on the southern edge of Stoke-on-Trent city centre.