Fire-eater John Wolstenholme, a retired geneticist and now one of a team of volunteer helpers at The Wood Pile in Renny’s Lane, Gilesgate, provided the unusual backdrop when Joe handed over a cheque to the centre’s grateful director Karen Stubbings.
The freemen’s backing has helped secure the future of the groundbreaking scheme that provides a life-line to dozens of disabled and disadvantaged adults.
The Wood Pile, led by three paid members of staff and supported by two dozen volunteer helpers, was launched in July 2014. In its first year its two workshops provided intensive week-day training for 45 out-of-work people – with eleven going on to full-time employment.
The staff also worked with 140 people, ranging from leading officers from public services and private industry to low income families and the unemployed. They attended the warehouse for half-day weekend courses in furniture restoration, joinery taster and team building sessions.
The centre operates on a shoe-string from a 3,000 square foot warehouse and specialises in reclaiming and reusing both rough sawn and graded timber and furniture that would otherwise be destined for landfill.
More than 250 tonnes of discarded wood donated and collected from local authorities, industry, builders and DIY stores across County Durham, Tyneside and Wearside have proved the life-blood of the organisation. At the same time hundreds of items of furniture donated by owners or bought from charity shops provide the opportunity for major restoration before being resold to the public.
Karen, a welfare specialist who leads the workforce said: “The generosity of the freemen helps to underwrite a major part of this year’s wage bill for our part-time support staff and relieves us of an enormous burden.
“Our main aim is to support people who are mentally or physically disabled or disadvantaged and help progress them into or towards jobs. We develop confidence and self-esteem and offer useful transferable skills that will boost their chances of getting into employment.”
The numbers of customers calling at the warehouse continues to grow, helped by advertising in the local media and through social media, including Facebook.
“We hope in the not too distant future that the income we generate from sales of both wood and furniture will make the centre self-sustaining.” added Karen.
Joe, who is also a trustee of the freemen’s charitable trust and himself a highly skilled wood turner, said: “Anyone who visits the Wood Pile cannot fail to be impressed by the energy and determination of the staff and volunteers or the enthusiasm and ability of those under training. We are delighted to offer tangible support that will help achieve their goals.”
*image courtesy of Tom Banks