Jay and Jade Blades, Birmingham 2013
Out of the Dark is an inspirational charity using design and craft to help disadvantaged young people turn their lives around. It was founded in 2010 by husband-and-wife Jay and Jade Blades, who met at university, but had early lives they say were full of "rebellion and hardship". They are professional, enthusiastic, and dedicated with a personal charisma that attracts youngsters onto their furniture restoration project and keeps them there.
Here, in my picture, they are standing against a stash of old furniture, symbolising their charity. This was at the big trade show Interiors UK in Birmingham, 2013 (www.interiorsuk.com).
The idea is simple. The charity rescues old furniture, enlists volunteer experts to teach the skills needed to restore it, and sells the results, ploughing profits back into the charity. Along the way, the youngsters – with an average age of 15 - learn basic woodworking, staining, polishing, painting, varnishing, re-covering, re-caning and so on, along with vital business skills.
Or to put it more trendily, they are up-cycling mid-century modern and other vintage pieces, which range from a single chair or shelving unit to a large table or wardrobe. Furniture, possibly destined for landfill, is not only restored but also re-vamped with coloured doors, perhaps, or a contrasting top, or flamboyant new handles, using design ideas from art college volunteers. Prices start from around £40 and go up to around £800. Recently they kitted out the VIP lounge at the huge Interiors trade fair in Birmingham, and this was where my photograph was taken.
Out of the Dark is based in High Wycombe, an area erstwhile famous for furniture making, and the historic home of brands such as Ercol, Parker Knoll and G-Plan. Sadly, many factories have closed down or taken production overseas. Accordingly old furniture is plentiful.
The young people – aged from 13 to 21 – follow a piece of furniture from start to finish and are proud of work that customers admire and want to buy. Trainees get a new focus to their lives, benefit from working as a team, and acquire expertise that often helps them later gain employment. Mentors have included a local 91-year-old local teaching classes on chair caning and an 80-year-old who runs the French polishing workshop. "Some of our trainees had never got to know an elderly person before," says Jay.