The upcycling project that was 40 years ahead of its time
A LOCAL reuse and recycling charity says that more can be done to reuse furniture and appliances, 40 years on from when its volunteers first started their work.
SOFA Project (which stands for Shifting Old Furniture Around) was founded in 1980 by a couple of volunteers who simply wanted to stop seeing items being thrown away, and for them to be reused by someone else instead.
It is estimated that the project has prevented nearly 400,000 items going to landfill. These range from household appliances and good quality furniture to clothes and pots of paint, and the social enterprise is the only cause in our region licensed by the UK Environment Agency to provide refurbished white goods sold fully tested and under guarantee.
Although the recycling landscape has much improved since the charity began, with Bristol now being a lead city, still more than half of used furniture and appliances goes to landfill.
Since the beginning, SOFA Project has helped many thousands of families afford low cost, quality furniture and appliances. These are supplied direct or through two shops, one in West Street, Old Market and the other more recently in Gloucester Road. The furniture through these shops is sold at affordable prices, such as the weekly £10 sofa. However despite the charity's work, Bristol still has many families going without what are regarded as necessities of living in the 21st century.
Nicci Peck, chief executive officer of SOFA Project said: “There is still a compulsion to buy new. We want people to donate quality furniture, create work opportunities and buy reused household items to prevent landfill. There are amazing furniture items and appliances around without the need to always resort to new ones.
“These days we’re seeing the trend that more and more people are selling items themselves online, so sadly rather more unusual items are disappearing, however we did get a harp once - quite tricky to sell due to the size! We’ve also been donated bagpipes (fortunately for our ears none of us could play them) and our more recent favourites have included a Victorian nursing chair, an immaculate massive games table (for pool, and on the reverse side, air soccer), and our freakiest item recently received was a taxidermy fox in a very elegant display case that had been used in a movie set!”
What makes SOFA Project unique is its ability to re-manufacture to provide subsidised good quality furniture, washing machines and cookers. It produces these from its warehouse in central Bristol with the aid of volunteers and those previously excluded from employment, as well as prisoners on rehabilitation programmes from Leyhill Open Prison. Some of the imaginatively reused items include chaise longues made from complete 100% recycled materials, storage from washing machine drums and clothes rails made from chairs.
Governor of HMP Leyhill, Neil Lavis said: “SOFA Project plays a key role in the rehabilitation of prisoners back into society by providing meaningful employment. The organisation has consistently been able to provide opportunities and training for low risk category prisoners.”
Marvin Rees, Bristol’s Mayor, added: “Congratulations to SOFA on 40 years’ contribution to supporting lower income families and those otherwise marginalised in Bristol. There continues to be so much more we can do in Bristol to support families get the basics and organisations like SOFA Project are a vital part of improving the quality of life for our citizens.”
Looking ahead, SOFA Project is keen to develop an upcycling workshop within HMP Eastwood Park, which is the nearest local women’s prison.
Nicci Peck said: “We’ve had very fruitful discussions about this and we’re just waiting for the site to be developed within HMP Eastwood Park. This has been something I’ve long wanted SOFA Project to do; we’ve worked with make prisoners since 2008 but there are very few work experience or training opportunities for female prisoners and I’d like to see this improve in the future.”
To find out more about SOFA Project and their work, visit: www.sofaproject.org.uk
Pictured above: A floor washing machine drum light, top right: Filing cabinet to garden planter, right: an upcycled sideboard