A look at an enterprise that re-designs pre-loved items

By now we’ve all heard of upcycling, the process of taking a piece of tired and unloved furniture and giving it a little cosmetic enhancement so it escapes certain death at landfill.

The result can be homely and fit for purpose, giving aspiring DIY enthusiasts the chance to experiment, though rarely does the result become a prized piece.

But enter a source that will, indeed, yield that prized and unique piece. Called The Rediscovery Centre, it’s a social enterprise based in Dublin which re-uses and redesigns pre-loved furniture for retail sale.

Beginning life in 2006, it developed as part of Ballymun’s regeneration project with a remit to encourage environmental responsibility and to create opportunities for local long-term unemployed.

The Rediscovery Centre as it is today, launched in 2009 and now has a raft of other services too, including revamping of bikes, fashion and even leftover paint, plus provision of environmental research projects for other organisations, all of which has enabled it to go from being 100% funded by Ballymun Regeneration to being almost self-funded.

“We provide training with restorers and craftsmen to give people an opportunity to go back to the workplace,” says Sarah Miller, CEO. 

“They stay with us anything from nine months to three years.”

The success rate is high with 91% of the centre’s trainees going on for further education or employment in the furniture trade. 

So what started out as an environmental project is now about developing people and skills with the spin-off of producing unique furniture pieces that are aesthetically pleasing and made to last, all of which bolsters the centre’s environmental goals by reducing the amount of unwanted furniture that ends up in landfill.

At the coal-face of the redesign and revamping is Gerard Griffin, a furniture restorer with 28 years experience when he took over as project manager at the centre.

“We take chairs, tables, wardrobes, fireside chairs,” he explains. “People send in a picture and we decide if we want to take it.”

Good quality wood is a priority but not an absolute necessity, even something with woodworm, but which has potential, can be treated successfully. They also offer a restoration service for that piece you’re not ready to discard.

“The techniques we teach are relatively the same for mid-century modern pieces as in the 19th and 19th centuries,” says Gerard. “Everything is done by hand.”

So no spray paint booths here but hand paint finishes taught alongside traditional techniques like French polishing, joinery and the appropriate use of glues which is a science in itself.

“We have long-term unemployed here,” says Sarah, “and also young people whom the education system has failed. The age range goes from 18 up to 50-plus.”

In the workshop environment, Gerard sees the advantages this mix brings to the training. 

“The dynamic in the workshop is very interesting. Younger people go at problems differently to the older crowd who are patient and bring life experience to the work.”

Currently selling their finished products from the centre’s premises in Ballymun, they’re also engaged in a collaboration with the NCBI Home shop which has put their furniture firmly amongst the mainstream retailers.

“It’s on Francis Street,” says Gerard, “which is furniture street in Dublin. 

People who buy the furniture are local, the environmentally conscious and those looking for something different. Prices are competitive, starting at €60 going up to €1,200.”

The quality of what they do is undeniable and recognised by some of our premier design education institutions.

Currently they partner with DTI, and take graduates from NCAD into the workshops to let them try out their design business models. There’s even been celebrity recognition for the centre: Television presenter Brendan Courtney bought a 50s style display cabinet for his home.

The next major development, scheduled for completion in late 2016, is a move of premises which is being approached in the true spirit of up-cycling and rediscovery and will bring the various units the centre is currently using under one roof.

“We’re moving into the old boiler house that used to service the Ballymun flats,” says Sarah. 

“We asked for money that was to be used for demolishing the building to be used to restore it instead.”

Like many 1960s buildings the boiler house is unlikely to win admiration from architectural aesthetes, but with The Rediscovery Centre’s ability to take something dilapidated and regenerate it so it’s once again desirable, we can look forward to the project completing with space for workshops, a dedicated retail outlet and an exhibition centre.

* Next week: we visit Limerick Craft Hub.



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