Help in a crisis

December 29, 2012

Gemma, with her five young children, was living in temporary accommodation in a caravan. Faced with a prospect of another Christmas in their damp surroundings, Gemma put a very important question to her family, “Would you like Christmas presents this year, or would you like to move into our very own house instead?” It didn’t take the children long to all agree that they really wanted their own real house, despite having to sacrifice their Christmas presents. Gemma saved up the rent, didn’t buy Christmas presents for her children and a few days before Christmas, they moved into their very own place, complete with furniture.

36-year old Jack had suffered a shoulder injury at work and became unemployed as a result. It took 18 months for the injury to be diagnosed and operated on. Jack remained unemployed for further 18 months and became isolated and felt he would never find another job. However, following a spell of volunteering, he gained a 13-week training placement and with help from Seetec, later achieving an NVQ2 qualification in Warehousing and Logistics. He gained a job and was soon promoted to supervisor.

Jack said:
“Volunteering really helped me get back into a routine and gave me a purpose in life. It gave me the experience and personal qualities to help me get a job. After 3 years of being out of work, I needed to get some work experience and not just stay at home watching daytime TV. Without the opportunity to volunteer, I would not have found the motivation to get back out there in the world of work.”

Harry had worked in the city for over 35 years, the job had become more and more stressful as his employers gave him extra responsibilities until he was unable to cope and ended up on long-term sick leave. As he slowly recovered, he found a part-time job, where he was supported and valued and now has a key role within the team.

A house fire in Basildon meant that 4 houses were severely damaged and uninhabitable. 4 families were moved to temporary accommodation until they were re-housed, but all their furniture was either smoke damaged or soaked. Each family received all the furniture they needed for their new homes.

At 15, John left school with no qualifications and no job. He had sustained an injury while training to be a bricklayer and with no sign of work, he was disenchanted with life and completely demotivated. Skip forward 20 months: he has gained qualifications in English and Maths, as well as an NVQ2 qualification in Warehousing and Logistics and has a full-time job working in London.

These people have one thing in common – a local social enterprise called Lighthouse Furniture Project.

John said:
“Lighthouse Furniture Project really helped me out. They’re a great company and the people are kind and supportive. They cared about me and helped me get through my exams. Without them, I wouldn’t have any qualifications and I wouldn’t be where I am today – where I want to be.”

Jack said:
“Volunteering at Lighthouse Furniture Project gave me enthusiasm and helped me back into a working mind-set. They took a chance on me, after my shoulder injury, and I proved to them I was committed and able to do the job of Warehouse Supervisor.

Lighthouse Furniture Project pride themselves on providing not just help in a crisis, but help with rebuilding lives, getting people into training, getting people back to work. Lighthouse is a charity run on a not -for-private-profit business model, but it is also a guaranteed social enterprise with the Social Enterprise Mark. This means that all monies raised go to expanding the project to help more people and protect the environment. The more surplus they make the more people they can help.

Lighthouse provides essential services to people seeking permanent accommodation:
• Starter packs containing kettle, toaster, crockery, cutlery, linen, duvet, pillows, towels, kitchen cleaning set and furniture – because loans are only available to people already living in permanent accommodation, which inevitably means moving in without any furniture.
• Vouchers for those facing extreme hardship – providing essential furniture and other basics.

That’s not all.

Lighthouse has always been a social enterprise, run by trustees from local churches, with ingrained values and aims which are fulfilled by helping other people. It’s not just a charity dependent upon grants; if fact in the last year we received zero grants, it is a self-sufficient enterprise with an average growth rate of over 15% in business to make a surplus – more surplus means more people get the support they need.
It doesn’t pay big salaries to its employees, or pay any dividends. It is dependent on the support of the volunteers who make up a third of total staff hours, some of whom have been with the project for over 17 years and without whom we would struggle to survive.

Most importantly, it is inspired and driven to use surpluses to help more people facing poverty.

Lighthouse is expanding. From a single retail warehouse in Brentwood, it now helps more people as a new centre has recently opened up in Rayleigh, Essex with another one due to open in the New Year in Epping Forest.

Brian Darwood, from Lighthouse Furniture Project said:
“We have grown considerably over the last seven years and have learned much along the way. We have collected over 15,000 items and diverted nearly 1,000 tonnes of furniture from landfill since we started, however the demand keeps on growing and the changes in benefits will further affect people. We are so grateful for the public’s generous donations and for our volunteers who give us their time.
For me, being certified with the Social Enterprise Mark reflects the social impact we have, helping people in housing crises; giving disadvantaged opportunities and seeing them gain confidence and qualifications, or those retuning to work following a breakdown, building self-belief, hope and self-esteem, that makes all the hard work really worthwhile.

We are all about helping people, those in need and those trying to help themselves back into employment, as well as being an organisation that hates to see furniture end up in landfill.”

Volunteers, Tony Bryant (on the right) and Bill Day.

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