Environment Awards: Community Award Winner: Doncaster Refurnish

Andy Simpson of Doncaster Refurnish
Andy Simpson of Doncaster Refurnish
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IF there is one award winner this year which proves environmental work can take off dramatically even in the very heart of Yorkshire’s most deprived urban areas, it is Doncaster Refurnish.

Launched as a tiny social enterprise in 2003, this not-for-profit bulky waste collection and recycling organisation has grown to become one of the largest and best-established groups of its type in the UK.

The idea behind Refurnish was twofold – to help the environment by preventing bulky waste going straight to landfill, and to help disadvantaged people in Doncaster by offering them cheap refurbished furniture and goods, as well as jobs with the organisation itself.

Eight years on, the results of this simple idea have been nothing short of spectacular.

“We now work in partnership with Doncaster Council to deliver a borough-wide collection service for bulky household waste,” said Refurnish chief executive Andy Simpson. “We collect it all.

“With the previous system, all these large items just got collected and went to landfill. We have changed that totally.”

The group collects old and damaged furniture from both local households and national retailers, restoring them at its workshops and then selling them on at very low cost to disadvantaged families.

The amount of waste the organisation is diverting from landfill is huge – some 8,500 collections of bulky items were made between October 2010 and March 2011 alone.

In some cases, the collected furniture is impossible to sell or pass on – but Refurnish will always do its upmost to prevent any waste ending up in a landfill site.

“Some things are easier to recycle or re-use than others,” Mr Simpson said. “Trends change – for example there are now a lot of sideboards and cabinets floating around that people just don’t seem to want any more.

“We have different solutions for different products. For example, with some wooden items we now strip them down as much as we can and use them in the biomass heaters we have to heat our warehouses.”

As well as its impressive environmental record, it is the strong community aspect of Refurnish’s work which marked it out for the Community Award, sponsored by Yorkshire Water.

In the past six months alone, more than 5,000 individuals and families who could not otherwise have afforded the furniture and goods they receive have benefited from Refurnish’s stock.

Refurbished items collected by the organisations are also distributed to needy community groups such as education centres, theatres, sports clubs and Scout groups.

Furthermore, Refurnish offers training and work placements to those in need – more than 100 ex-offenders and long-term unemployed people have been helped in this way.

No wonder it was lauded in glowing terms on Channel 4’s The Secret Millionaire last year. “I have never seen a local charity run so professionally,” said tycoon Fil Adams-Mercer. “It’s green, it trains people and it helps people out. It’s an amazing place.”