A new life through old fur­ni­ture

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Life Property -

By the age of 15, Travis Henry had pretty much given up on school and school had pretty much given up on Travis. Al­though he once har­boured dreams of be­ing a doc­tor, a com­bi­na­tion of teenage dis­en­chant­ment, the feel­ing that no one was lis­ten­ing to him and what teach­ers saw as a poor at­ti­tude to his stud­ies meant he was on the verge of be­ing ex­cluded. It could have ended badly. The story is de­press­ingly fa­mil­iar for many young peo­ple: leav­ing school with no qual­i­fi­ca­tions, the at­trac­tion of be­long­ing to a gang and petty crime spi­ralling into some­thing worse. But for Travis, that didn’t hap­pen. The day I meet him he shows me one of his re­cent cre­ations: a child’s dis­carded Vic­to­rian chair that un­til re­cently was al­most past sav­ing. Now it is a beau­ti­fully re­stored con­fec­tion of white, yel­low and gold. The lit­tle spin­dles in the back are light yel­low, with the tini­est spike of green, sug­gest­ing that first day of spring when trees bring forth their soft leaves; the seat is freshly up­hol­stered in slubby gold tweed, neatly fixed to the base with brass studs, and the frame is a cool white: easy, not harsh on the eye, which brings out the del­i­cate swirls and pat­terns of the hand-tool­ing. The whole com­po­si­tion is de­light­ful and fresh as a daisy. It took Travis, now 20, nearly four days to make a 100-yearold ob­ject good for another cen­tury. “It’s quite weird,” he grins. “I never re­ally thought about fur­ni­ture when I was younger. But now I’m build­ing a pas­sion for it.” Over the past three years Travis has saved dozens of chairs and other pieces of fur­ni­ture from be­ing chucked into land­fill. Once, he ad­mits, he was fairly thought­less about waste. Now, “be­fore I throw any­thing away I think to my­self: ‘What can I do with this?’” Al­though trained now in the arts of re­pair­ing fur­ni­ture, sand­ing, up­hol­stery and can­ing, for Travis the dream of be­ing a doc­tor again has flick­ered to life. He has gone back to ed­u­ca­tion, got him­self some GCSEs and is study­ing at col­lege for three A-lev­els in biology, physics and PE. The turn­around in Travis’s for­tunes came when he met Jay and Jade Blades, a hus­band and wife team who run Out of the Dark, a char­i­ta­ble so­cial en­ter­prise that trains young peo­ple in dan­ger of fall­ing through the in­creas­ingly wide loops in so­ci­ety’s net. Jade, who trained as a tex­tile de­signer, says it was her own and Jay’s ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing re­bel­lious teenagers that led them to set­ting up their youth projects. “We both went a lit­tle off the rails as teenagers, but if our par­ents couldn’t cope we were saved by our ex­tended fam­i­lies, who helped keep us on the straight and nar­row,” says Jade, 41. “Un­for­tu­nately too of­ten to­day, young peo­ple are more iso­lated from sta­ble adult role mod­els and in many ar­eas, the ex­tended fam­ily is no longer there. We try to pro­vide that in our work­shops, pro­vid­ing train­ing, em­ploy­ment and self es­teem for young peo­ple who can then go on and make some­thing of their lives.” Jay and Jade live in High Wy­combe, once the fur­ni­ture­mak­ing cap­i­tal of Eng­land which, in its hey­day be­tween 1850 and 1970 had more than 500 man­u­fac­tur­ers, where there are now fewer than 10. It made sense to fo­cus the en­ter­prise on fur­ni­ture but rather than cre­ate from new, they de­cided to add another ben­e­fit to their scheme, by us­ing it to res­cue and re­store pieces des­tined for land­fill. Travis shows me the Out of the Dark ware­house: an enor­mous hangar of a build­ing, an Aladdin’s cave of sorry-look­ing so­fas, bat­tered chaises longues and stained and bro­ken ta­bles. But with a bit of mend­ing and paint­ing and a splash of gaudy colour from up­hol­stery fab­ric do­nated from tex­tile de­sign­ers in­clud­ing JAB, Ti­morous Beast­ies and Par­ris Wake­field, th­ese pieces are given a bright rich af­ter­life. “Around 99 per cent of the fur­ni­ture in our ware­house would oth­er­wise be sent to land­fill,” says Jay. “With a few days’ work, a piece can be saved for 100 years, rather than sent to rot.” At present around 25 young peo­ple are re­ferred to Out of the Dark each year, from po­lice, so­cial ser­vices or schools. The ones who knuckle down and show ap­ti­tude and in­ter­est are taken on first as trainees and then as em­ploy­ees. “This month we are launch­ing a new ‘Crafty Club’, a youth club where each week the kids will learn a new skill, from mak­ing tex­tile bags to paint­ing shelves. Some will go on to join our train­ing course and we hope even­tu­ally to be train­ing around 90 young peo­ple a year.” For more in­for­ma­tion, see out­ofthedark. org.uk green­in­mind.co.uk: Hus­band and wife team Gary and Joanne Lin­coln up­cy­cle their own finds or will re­fresh fur­ni­ture found by you, to your own style and de­sign. Vin­tage pink mir­ror £80 rubyrhino.co.uk: Luke and Han­nah Ricci and Gavin Ket­tle are a young brother, sis­ter and hus­band team, based in Lich­field. Luke re­turned to the UK af­ter years of trav­el­ling and de­cided to do some­thing “about all this sense­less waste”. A vin­tage hand-painted side ta­ble, above, £295 green­man­re­cy­cled fur­ni­ture.co.uk: Chris Knipe, based in Pon­tar­dawe, near Swansea, trains vol­un­teers as well as adults with learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties to work with wood, giv­ing them skills in restor­ing, re­pair­ing and paint­ing. Small bench, left, made from re­claimed bed head­board £120-£150 hand painted fur­ni­ture com­pany. co.uk: From her shed at the bot­tom of a pub gar­den in ru­ral Shrop­shire, Rhonda Hux­ley up­cy­cles unloved, heavy, dark wooden pieces from the mid-20th cen­tury. With a lick of paint and a re­fresh, she turns them into fresh, mod­ern items ready for another 80 years of use. Up­cy­cled bu­reaux £195-£325 the­old­cin­ema.co.uk: The Old Cin­ema in Chiswick High Road, west Lon­don, is a long-es­tab­lished em­po­rium of all things up­cy­cled, re­claimed and re­freshed. El­e­gantly re­uphol­stered Vic­to­rian ma­hogany love seat £1,450, be­low

Fresh start: Travis Henry, above, works on another restora­tion project for Out of the Dark, top

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