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A Supply Chain of Hope

Tuesday, 25 August 2015 14:02

Many furniture re-use charities started up in the 1980s and early 1990s to address the needs of homeless people and families living in crisis, and to solve a growing public concern and frustration that good unwanted furniture had become increasingly difficult to donate to charity, and usually ended up in landfill. Agencies such as Women’s Refuge and the Salvation Army ceased taking furniture due to tightening regulations on second hand items, and limited capacity for growth.

A new type of organisation was needed to set up a collection, storage and distribution system. Nearly 30 years later, and the Furniture Re-use Network (FRN) can boast 300 + member organisations that range in size and service to help the vulnerable and those in crisis. 950,000 low income households are helped each year.

The environment benefits too. Re-use charities intercept reusable and repairable `waste’ furniture and electrical appliances, before they hit landfill. That's 2.7 million items per year.

Financial donations from parishioners, money from grant-giving trusts and funding from their local council ensured that re-use charities could provide essential items, such as beds for families fleeing domestic violence, either free of charge or at extremely low cost.

This supply chain of hope, was and remains essential to people and families in crisis. And the numbers are growing.

Except, an important component of this chain, the funding from statutory sources - or the last financial safety net in our social security system - will disappear in 2016.

The removal of specific funding from central Government will result in the closure or curtailment of many local welfare schemes. This is likely to see an increase in claims on the State’s resources in other areas, as well as in the numbers turning to loan sharks and pay-day lenders.

From FRN’s perspective, we are extremely concerned that this will be accompanied by significant growth in unfunded applications to charities. We’re seeing this now. And many charities are struggling to cope.

Last week, we submitted evidence to the National Audit Office (NAO).

The NAO is conducting an evaluation of councils; their delivery of local welfare provision and considering how the support they provide reduces the need for more expensive public services. Particularly welcome will be a look at the risks and challenges councils face in maintaining local welfare provision, identifying good practice in councils and helping them improve value for money.

Their findings will be published in December 2015.

48% of FRN members are currently working with their local council to alleviate crisis. More significantly, 52% are not. This is a wasted opportunity by councils to cut costs, to help the poorest in local communities and to reduce waste disposal bills.

From April 2016, some councils are looking to provide support to in-crisis families from their general funding. Understandably, the budget for this will be pretty small.

Working with local furniture re-use charities will ensure that councils achieve excellent value for money AND a whole range of added value support services. The London Borough of Hounslow has reduced the average cost per grant per family by a staggering 71% [see case study below].

Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to find out how this value for money can be achieved, and how to establish local crisis support partnerships (this is an invitation to local authorities, furniture re-use charities, social housing providers, CAB, credit union…any organization with an anti-poverty agenda).

Here are a couple of examples of the work FRN members do, and the amount of money they are saving their council on waste disposal and welfare costs.


Case Study 1

FRN member - Resco – works with the London Borough of Hounslow (LBH). Resco collects donated furniture from residents who no longer need the items.


In 2012/2013, under the centrally administered Social Fund, £463,900 was spent on 580 Community Care Grants for the provision of essential furniture, home ware and appliances for LBH residents (DWP, 2014)[i].

When the funding was decentralised the following year, LBH set up a Discretionary Social Welfare Fund to resource the need. Utilising the furniture re-use sector, they were able to generate considerable savings.

In 2013/2014 LBH issued 520 furniture and appliance grants with a cost to the borough of just £95,325 and approximately £23,000 worth of home ware and other goods; a total of £118,325.

Switching from new items to re-use items reduced the average cost per grant by 71% from £800 to £228.

“Working with Resco and making use of quality, re-usable furniture has meant that Hounslow has been able to save money and allowed us to support more people.  This creates greater value for our residents financially, socially and environmentally.”

Harminder Persad

Assistant Head Revenues & Benefits 

London Borough of Hounslow


Case Study 2

A partnership between Suffolk County Council and Ipswich Furniture Scheme (IFS).


Between April 2013 and October 2014 IFS, via the Local Welfare Assistance Fund has:

  • Supported 5,355 low income households with essential goods (e.g. beds, furniture, electrical goods) of which 1,514 were low income households in crisis, via the Local Welfare Assistance Scheme.

  • Supplied 22,397 pre-used furniture items, potentially saving 477.58 tonnes of reusable furniture waste from landfill, thereby saving on local authority collection and waste disposal costs.

  • Supplied 2,224 re-used electrical items.

  • Supplied 2,306 new furniture items, mainly beds/mattresses and 4,300 new electrical items;

  • Saved the local authority £111,585 in discounts, by providing pre-used goods and taking advantage of the bulk-buying discounts we achieve via our representative body – the Furniture Re-use Network.

  • Created 35 jobs, training and volunteering opportunities.


Helen Middleton

Market Development Manager

Furniture Re-use Network

Twitter: @HelMiddleton



Read 3510 times Last modified on Friday, 25 September 2015 15:24

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