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Will housing associations come out of the Social Enterprise closet?

Wednesday, 23 September 2015 16:23

As necessity is the mother of invention, could the 'upcycling' of unwanted wardrobes into Japanese accommodation 'capsules' be the next big thing for housing associations and social enterprise development?

This new furniture re-use business model, loosely based on the sleeping capsules used by commuting Japanese executives, could provide a low cost solution for the lack of affordable housing in the UK, create jobs for tenants and divert thousands of tonnes of waste from landfill.

Of course it's a ludicrous, sarcastic and perhaps tasteless suggestion borne out of frustration at the shortage of affordable homes, and of Government policy that will impact upon social housing. However, in the face of severe challenges, innovation and out-of-the-box thinking must and can emerge.

By thinking about a box the YMCA, for example, has been able to provide over 40 new affordable homes to young people unable to afford private rental.

The Y: cube was unveiled in 2014. It's a 26 sq. metre box, self-contained and can be located in densely-populated urban areas.
It's innovative. Desperate times require this, along with creativity, and a certain entrepreneurial spirit. A social one in this case.

Y cubeThere was some debate at the recent National Housing Federation Conference on Social Enterprise, Work & Well-Being that housing associations already are social enterprises. Maybe that's a topic for another blog.

My presentation on the subject of social enterprise was intended to highlight alternative ways that housing associations can improve employment and employability amongst tenants, counter some of the effects of Universal Credit, whilst simultaneously reducing costs and generating income.  

These examples focused upon social enterprise and furniture re-use models, which are FRN's areas of strength. It's important to note that the furniture re-use sector has diversifed and expanded its goods and services way beyond the traditional supply of low-cost essential goods to people in need. Although this of course is still core to what we do.

More and more housing associations are joining the Furniture Re-use Network having created, or are in the process of developing a furniture reuse-inspired organisation.

These three case studies highlight the benefits of social enterprise development by housing associations, as well as partnership working with a re-use organisation: Download three Furniture Re-use Network case study examples.

One of these housing associations is set to reach the £1 million turnover mark this financial year.

There are many more examples. And there are many more product and service diversification opportunities that housing associations can develop and build upon; either strongly or loosely focused upon the re-use, repair or upcycling of furniture and electrical appliances. 

  • Want a solution for the tonnes of perfectly reusable carpet your housing association throws away each year?
  • Want to reduce your void clearance costs?
  • Want to provide affordable household goods to your tenants so that rent due to you isn't spent at high interest retail stores?
  • Want to explore the range of social enterprise furniture re-use options?


If you're interested in setting up a social enterprise; maybe around the re-use of furniture, clearing void properties etc., but don't know where to start, then send me an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

We give all the necessary business planning, technical and regulatory guidance to start up and/or develop your enterprise. You can have a no obligation chat about the pros, cons and how to go about it.

Helen Middleton, Market Development Manager for the Furniture Re-use Network, was speaking at the National Housing Federation's 'Social Enterprise, Work and Well-being' event (24th September 2015) about the benefits of re-use and social enterprise development.




²Based upon research compiled by academics based at Heriot-Watt University, the University of New South Wales and the University of York, published February 2015.

Picture credits: and




Read 4855 times Last modified on Friday, 03 June 2016 08:21

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