Furniture project


"Right," I said, "as I'm about to retire, I'd better find myself some small tasks to help the transition. There are charities out there looking for volunteers." "You should join Christian CARE," said my wife, Barbara, "they need someone to help with the Furniture Project". Three letters and two interviews later I found myself in twin harness, and I'm still there one way or another. In April 2001 Bert Hyde and Tony Somerton came to my house with some papers and described the role of the Furniture Project in the work of Christian CARE. Bert's clarity of vision saw just how important the Project is. Tony was then the key man and remains a significant member of the team.

The essence of the work is to collect items of furniture from people who no longer need them and deliver them to people who do, and can't afford to buy. For this to work we need a means of transporting items, somewhere to keep them temporarily as supply doesn't exactly match demand, and a method of knowing what items are offered, in store and being sought. It was my love of playing with computers which prompted Barbara to see that I should be good for this latter part of the task, and indeed I have maintained some sort of record over the years.

However my main work was to take the van out on a Thursday to collect and deliver. One meets many different types of people on these occasions. People can be very helpful and may even offer refreshments. Donors are pleased that their beloved family possession will be going to a new home, and recipients are happy to find that there were furnishings available for them to have.

The "hardware" when I started was an old ex-BT yellow van and four lock-up garages, two rented from the London Borough of Merton but two kindly lent by well-wishers. Sadly one of my first tasks was to clear one of the latter as the owner needed to store furniture for a relative returning from abroad. In 2002 Councillor Edith Macauley was touring the Mitcham Carnival stalls and learned of our work. That year she was Mayor of Merton and declared us as one of her charities.

Through that were given a £6.000 by the All England Lawn Tennis Club and were able to replace the van with a newer one. This Transit was slightly wider, which made it much easier to get a double mattress in and had the advantage of two side loading doors. That served us well but eventually the annual repair bill to get an MOT certificate became large, while the looming London low-emission zone indicated we would need a new one anyway. Fortunately the Lord favoured us and we were able to buy a later model in March 2010 through money given in legacy.

A project like this cannot work without people. Over the years Tony Somerton has been a stalwart Saturday driver and confidante. Liam Harnett also drove till he decided he was too old! Lucy Garrett also did a spell. At first we were helped by a variety of people, some asylum seekers themselves, but gradually I came to rely on Tony Sheahan and, sometimes, on Sean Dean. Tony Somerton found help among the teenagers he met through his other Christian CARE work. Recently George Otoo joined the team, as a driver.

Over the years, if I flagged, Barbara would encourage me and, even after her death, I kept going to some extent in her memory. With my increasing age having, I understood, an impact on the van insurance premium and finding myself less able to cope with the physical work I told the committee that I would resign on 1st April 2011. Who would take over? The "usual suspects" having declined, a new volunteer came into the Office; once more the Lord favoured and here was Robert Wright, able and willing to carry on the work. At the same time more contacts with other organisations in the Borough are leading to an increase in requests for our services, so we enter a new era with new work, a new van and a new co-ordinator.
August 2011

Bert Hyde, our founder, "One of God's diamonds"