Back to the Future: Reuse Network Conference 2019

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Last week saw the great and good of the UK’s reuse sector descend on Kenilworth for the Reuse Network’s 2019 conference. This year sees the Reuse Network (formerly the Furniture Reuse Network) celebrate its 30th birthday and an intriguing ‘Back to the Future’ theme saw attendees reflect on the journey that the sector has been on over those thirty years – and take a look the challenges and opportunities presented by the future.

 

FRC Group, End Furniture Poverty’s parent social enterprise, has also recently celebrated its own 30th birthday. For 30 years, FRC has worked to get a mix of new and preloved furniture to people in need, and has been an active member of the Reuse Network. Our CEO Shaun Doran delivered a presentation on the FRC Group journey from volunteer organisation to multi-million pound social enterprise, while End Furniture Poverty went along to the conference as an exhibitor, to talk about all of the work that we do.

 

The reuse sector is as important now as it has ever been. Having survived the uncertainty of the post-financial crash years – no mean feat for small charities and social enterprises – we head into an equally uncertain future headlined by Brexit and the political uncertainty that surrounds it. In the intervening period, we have had the age of austerity – an unprecedented, sustained squeeze on budgets up and down the country. As frontline services have been stripped away and safety nets eroded, the reuse sector has been there to catch people on low and no-incomes, providing affordable furniture, jobs, training and hope to countless people.

 

It is worth taking a moment to emphasise the work done by reuse organisations in the UK. According the Reuse Network’s figures, over 3.5 million items for furniture and electrical appliances were reused in 2017/18. This in turn diverted 120,270 tonnes of items from landfill and 129,250 tonnes of CO2 emissions. It helped over 1.55 million households across the country to save over £448 million and supported over 52,000 people through volunteering, training and work placements.

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Now is not the time to rest on our laurels.

 

Moving forward, it seems likely that demand for the excellent work the sector does is only going to increase. Whether an increasing awareness to tackle environmental issues or a growing need to help vulnerable people access affordable, good-quality preloved furniture, the sector seems set to grow.

 

It is important that the sector continues to be flexible and reactive to people’s needs. There is no one-size-fits all approach and every community will have its own specific idiosyncrasies and challenges but it is vital that we all work together. This is a common theme – it is one we also saw at last month’s ‘From Poverty to Prosperity’ conference. As we head into this uncertain future, we should be looking to maximise the good we do, and looking to do it as efficiently as possible. Communication and collaboration will be key to ensuring that the Reuse Network continues to thrive for the next 30 years and beyond.

 

It was also fantastic to see and hear from some of the many charities and social enterprises from across the country to hear about the wonderful work they are doing to help to End Furniture Poverty and the ways they are innovating. We heard Reviive tell us how they had been able to drive sales and help more people by launching an online store with proper product descriptions and photos. Toogoodtowaste walked us through the ways they had partnered with national retailers to help grow themselves – taking on new some challenges in the process. Newly crowned Reuse Organisation of the Year Kennet Furniture Refurbiz (KFR) set up a dedicated white goods provision fund. Working in partnership with over 30 organisations and Wiltshire Council, they have raised £12,000 and helped over 70 families providing 130 white good items for free

 

EFP would like to offer one word of caution is on the importance of focus. At last week’s conference, we were given a presentation extolling the virtues of mattress deconstruction. Mattress deconstruction is obviously not reuse and we would certainly urge restraint in venturing too far away from reuse. This is especially the case when you consider that alternatives to deconstruction do exist. Indeed, we at FRC Group have developed a process for cleaning good-quality preloved mattresses.