The Lancashire furniture charity helping house vulnerable families

When the UK was put into lockdown on March 23rd, the country's 67 million residents were told in no uncertain terms to stay home, protect the NHS, and save lives. But, staying home meant vastly different things for different people, while for others there wasn't even a home to stay in.

Thursday, 14th May 2020, 7:00 am
Furniture Matters' Manager Steph Buchanan

In the intervening seven weeks, Morcambe-based charity Furniture Matters has been diligently helping councils across the North West ensure that the most at-risk members of society have suitable places to live and isolate during the outbreak. A furniture reuse charity, the organisation has turned its attention to furnishing properties so as to provide emergency accommodation for the most vulnerable individuals during the coronavirus pandemic.

"When lockdown came, if we'd all have gone home, the people we service - people in need and people on low incomes - would have suffered," says Steph Buchanan, Manager of Furniture Matters. "Had we shut, the 80-plus families we've serviced since lockdown would have been without beds, washing machines, cookers. They'd have suffered."

Working in tandem with the Lancashire Crisis Support Scheme and Blackpool Coastal Housing to prepare vacant properties for people to move into during lockdown, the charity - which was founded in 1999 - has responded to the government's warnings that people at higher risk from coronavirus needed to be housed and practising lockdown as a matter of urgency.

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One of Furniture Matters' members of staff in action.

Part of the Calico Group, Furniture Matters's remit is to extensively refurbish unwanted white goods, computers, and other household goods so as to offer them at low cost to local people in need. Responding to requests for help from Burnley, Hyndburn, South Ribble, Pendle, and Blackpool Councils, they have so far furnished 54 vacant properties for vulnerable residents, with more in progress.

"We've managed to work with a lot of councils who have had to bring rough sleepers in, so we've been able to help furnish properties," explains Steph, 47, who has worked for the charity for 14 years. "It's been majorly important. It's about the little things which we can help get done which then contributes towards everyone being that much safer. It's really busy; it's all go."

Having been operating as a key cog in numerous councils' rehousing efforts, Furniture Matters is currently one of just two services delivering essential household items as part of Lancashire’s Crisis Support Scheme, which provides support for people experiencing a crisis beyond their control and is designed to assist the most vulnerable in meeting short-term needs and promote their continued independence.

They have also been working with Safenet Domestic Abuse Services, another branch of the Calico Group, to furnish safe and secure properties for victims of domestic abuse amidst reports that, during lockdown, the number of calls to the National Domestic Abuse helpline run by Refuge have doubled. Tragically, some 14 women and two children were killed in the first three weeks of lockdown alone.

"There's huge pride in the fact that we're doing that hidden but crucial work," says Steph, who is from Morecambe. "It sounds corny, but we genuinely are like on big family. We all get on and we all know that the work we're doing is helping someone less fortunate, and that's why we come to work.

"We normally have 27 staff and 25 volunteers, but we're down to seven staff and one volunteer, but we've still managed to do everything we've done," she adds. "I'm so proud of everyone; they're going out and about furnishing properties, helping people out and working really, really hard. On a day-to-day basis, those who have been in have been stars and the days absolutely fly by.

"We're doing amazing things considering the current climate."