IT’S not quite a rags to riches story, but at Shabby2Chic in Marton, there has been something of an upgrade in the past 12 months.
The community-interest company, set up by mum-of-three Sandra Johnson in 2009, grew so big it had to move from its first headquarters in a warehouse unit at Coleridge Road, Layton, to a new home on Burton Road.
And from humble beginnings of Sandra working alone to transform old, broken or battered furniture into something that bit special, Shabby2Chic now involves a whole team of people.
Sandra set up furniture reclamation firm Shabby2Chic because of her burning passion for furniture and for recycling.
After living in Thailand for a few years, she felt appalled by the throw-away culture of the west.
She wanted to use her knowledge, skills and expertise to not only breathe new life into tired old has-beens, but help others learn the same skills. She runs evening classes for those who want to learn how to “shabby chic” their own furniture. She is also determined to help the local community.
There is Paul Ely, who suffered a brain injury and came to Sandra through charity Headways, there is a young man who through the project is getting his art GCSE, a man who has agoraphobia and a business studies graduate who has been struggling to find a job due to lack of experience.
Sandra is helped by brother Mark, also an artist, PA Sharon and former teacher Shirley, as well as artist Boz and joiner Derek.
The bigger building now has space for a workshop, woodwork room, studio, office and showroom.
Sandra said: “Everything seems to have come together. The old place just wasn’t big enough. Customers wanted to come and look at the furniture, so we needed a showroom.
“We have to sell the furniture to be able to keep going, we don’t get any funding.
“Everything we do is about recycling and everything we use is environmentally friendly. For example, we use tomato ketchup to clean the guild on picture frames.”
Sandra’s brother makes stencils, which people can use in workshops to create artworks – including Celtic patterns.
Sandra said: “That’s great because anyone can do it by using a stencil. People of all abilities or disabilities.”
Paul Ely, 40, has been coming to Shabby2Chic for two months.
He said: “It is fun and I like doing practical things. I was good at things like metal work and technical drawing when I was at school.”
Paul’s rehabilitation assistant Pierre Betoin, said he enjoyed bringing Paul to the weekly sessions.
He said: “Paul has a very strong work ethic, but you couldn’t expect him to go back to work at a normal company. Sandra and Derek are fantastic with him and it is really helping to build his confidence.
“It helps develop his motor skills and social skills – coming here once a week means he is doing really well. I used to be a woodwork teacher, so I like it too.”
For Sandra, each piece of furniture she works on is a real labour of love. One, which she lovingly restored and French polished, has just been bought for a stately home.
She said: “It is hard work, it is time-consuming. But it is so enjoyable.”
n For more details, visit www.shabby2chic.co.uk