Since I started my blog way back in 2009, one of the things that has remained extremely important to me is to uncover great stories. Every product tells a story, every designer has a story and every brand is based on a story. Whilst we may not always hear the story, it can have a dramatic effect on the way that we perceive and feel about these things. That is one of the main reasons why I love to feature interviews here on my blog; I really enjoy getting and giving those insights that add meaning and value to the things that I write about.
Whilst many people associate interior design purely with pretty things for the home, there is a whole spectrum of interior design out there that goes far deeper. You may remember when I featured Petit Miracle Interiors, a registered charity organisation that uses interior design training to help increase the employability of people who are economically inactive? Or The Living Furniture Project, an organisation that employs and trains homeless Londoners to make beautiful bespoke furniture? Well this week I want to share another amazing story with you.
Out of the Dark is a charitable social enterprise that recycles, restores and revamps salvaged furniture as a means to train, educate and employ young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. It was founded by Jay and Jade Blades and helps to support young people to achieve a better life, steer away from crime, and at the same time develop self esteem and confidence. This again struck me as another great story and luckily Jade was kind enough to tell me more. But before she does here is a short video all about the great work that they do.
What are your backgrounds? What did you both do before Out of the Dark?
Jay used to be in the building industry and I used to work in travel and interior design. We met at Bucks New University in our late 20s when Jay was studying a BSc in Criminology and Philosophy and I was studying a BA in Textiles Design and Art. We started running youth projects in 2000 whilst studying, and over the years we have built a charity that is known for working with some of the hardest young people to engage with.
How did you first become involved with youth projects?
We were mature students at university when Jay was volunteering for some youth organisations – he always explained that he felt that he could do it better, so we sat down and made plans for an ‘ideal’ youth project, which then become a reality in 2000.
Can you tell us about the charity Street Dreams that you run?
Street Dreams became the name of the charity we developed from 2000 onwards, and we started running a variety of youth projects to help disadvantaged youth learn life skills and handle the problems they face in their everyday lives.
How did this lead you to set up Out of the Dark?
Out of the Dark was one of Street Dreams’ projects set up to help young people learn work ethics and get skilled/confident in work settings. We felt that teaching young people life skills was not enough, we had to help them learn how to sustain a job and earn money through legitimate means.
Why did you choose furniture restoration in particular and how does this activity help young people achieve a better life?
We chose furniture restoration partly because we love furniture, partly because it fits in with our personal previous lives (building/DIY and interior design), and also partly because we are based in High Wycombe, which is seeped in furniture making heritage.
Where do you source the furniture from and the materials necessary to complete the restoration?
We receive furniture donations from individuals and charity shops, we go to flea markets, and also find stuff on the side of the road sometimes. We do buy some materials but also have been fortunate to receive paint, and fabric donations from major companies.
You work with youths on three different levels. Can you explain this?
LEVEL 1 is the entry level where we work with youth that have been referred to us by local agencies such as the police and social services. At this level young people learn basic DIY skills, receive life coaching and gain confidence. Then some of these young people get chosen to go up to LEVEL 2, which is a training scheme that runs every year, and offers 15 young people a chance to compete against each other ‘the apprentice’ style to be able to get chosen to go up to the next level. Five young people get chosen to then go up to LEVEL 3 where they become paid employees, starting at £5 an hour, working up to £7 an hour and then piece work. A strong hierarchical system means that there is always a carrot for the young people to aim for!
How do crafts people get involved?
Being in the heart of the historical epicentre of furniture making, we have a lot of retired and semi-retired crafts people who offer their time voluntarily to teach us skills.
Can you tell us about a particular success story that you have helped to engineer?
One of the young people we were working with was doing really badly at school, and getting involved with all sorts of activities that were leading her down a self-destructive path. She got involved with us at age 12, and now, at age 15, she is a beacon of good behaviour at school. She has not only decided to go to college but is even looking at university courses, where she would like to study theatre make up, and recently stated “i will not settle unless I achieve the best for myself”. She has come a long way and now is a valuable member at LEVEL 3, mentoring the younger members in LEVEL 1, and helping run painting workshops in shops such as Heal’s.
What are your plans for the future?
We hope to make Out of the Dark a stable entity that is working with around 90 young people a year and at the same time getting recognised as an upcoming contemporary furniture maker/designer.
I would like to thanks Jade for taking part in this interview. It’s an inspirational story right? I certainly think so!