In the second of a series of special reports to celebrate Furniture Mine‘s 30th Anniversary, we spoke to Margaret Riley, who helped set up Furniture Mine

“30 years ago I worked for the national organisation ‘Voluntary Action’. Part of our role was to look for gaps in the provision of services for people, and see whether it would be appropriate for a charitable organisation to fill those gaps.

We noticed that there were people who were desperate to leave home for whatever reason -sometimes there was abuse or other urgent circumstances. They were trying to start a new home but just had nothing. At the same time, we knew that people were throwing things away which could be reused by those who needed them.

It just seemed such an obvious thing to connect the two. These days we’d probably call it recycling.

Finding funding

We knew of an existing scheme in Derby, which was a success. My job was to look into the possibility of setting up a similar kind of service in the Stoke area, and see how this could be funded.

We decided to get local movers and shakers together – organisations which recognised there was a need for something like this, along with people who could potentially help with funding. We hired a bus and organised a trip to Derby to see the project there. Everybody saw it and immediately said “we want one.” That was the beginning.

We decided we’d focus on North Staffordshire, and look for funding from all the local authorities.

A new charity

We set up the new charity and had enough money to hire a co-ordinator and an admin worker. We bought a van and looked for an empty warehouse to use as the base. We initially looked at a place on the site of a redundant mine. The first chair was a local vicar called Rikki Twigg, and he came up with the idea of naming the project ‘Furniture Mine’. It was a brilliant play on words, because the mine was going to be the first warehousing and it also means ‘my furniture’.

We had a relationship with the Salvation Army and we recruited men from the local hostel as volunteers to run the van service. The work was as valuable to them as it was beneficial to the charity.

The project was set up so that you had to be referred by a statutory agency or a recognised third party. It was pretty much free to service users, once they had been referred as someone who needed furniture.

Proud of the Furniture Mine

Stoke-on-Trent is so much richer for the role the voluntary sector has played, and I just feel so privileged to have been around at the time when so many new services, including Furniture Mine, were created.”

Find out more about Emmaus Furniture Mine