‘Every day is doomsday: how a food bank is struggling to keep up and diversify, encouraging Manchester businesses to address furniture poverty’

How Manchester businesses are bringing the issue of Furniture Poverty to the table.

It’s a scenario you wouldn’t think exists in 2023, and yet, the above is just one of the many requests our support team receive on a weekly basis. Relaxing on the sofa when you get home from work, blasting yesterday’s leftovers in the microwave, washing your bedsheets every week. The routines we take for granted are out of range for many in Greater Manchester — due to living in furniture poverty.

Typically hidden, the concept of furniture poverty evades many — it is simply inconceivable in an age of surplus and ‘fast furniture’, hundreds of thousands of children across the UK go to sleep on the floor. The above video by BBC Morning Live illustrates this, with a feature of Mustard Tree on how we are helping to tackle the issue.

End Furniture Poverty describes furniture poverty (including white goods) as the ‘inability to access, afford to buy or maintain, any household furniture or appliance item that is essential to achieve a socially acceptable standard of living.’ You can read more about the campaign here.

Thanks to the support from individuals and businesses who support Mustard Tree, we can combat furniture poverty head on through our Community Shops, where items are made available at very low cost, or given directly to people in need.

This could be for a client facing crisis (i.e. a new washing machine to replace one which has stopped working) or someone who has previously been homeless and since secured a permanent tenancy.

More recently, we’ve benefitted from larger collections from local hotels and businesses, some of which took the opportunity to relocate or refurbish during the Covid-19 pandemic. Others came through collaborative work with partner organisations.

Making Sustainability Part of the Furniture
Staycity Manchester Piccadilly Aparthotel previously worked with Mustard Tree through the Manchester Hoteliers Association — and reached out to donate sofa beds, tables, chairs and bedside cabinets.

Sophie Atalay, General Manager says “as a business we strive to support our local community. Donating furniture not only supports local people, but it also aids us on our journey towards a more sustainable future.”

“We first heard about Mustard Tree from one of our clients, who wanted to donate old furniture” says Alistair Dickson, Managing Director of Project Furniture Residential.

“Mustard Tree is always our first thought when we acquire items that can be reused and rehomed. Since March 2022, we have donated over 120 items. The bulk of these donations have been loose furniture items, including beds, mattresses, dining tables and chairs. These items were either removed from residential properties or rejected from stock due to minor defects.”

Alistair says: “Project Group are making a promise to take responsible steps to minimise our carbon emissions. Partnerships like ours with Mustard Tree not only creates opportunities for the community, supports the combat of poverty and helps prevent homelessness, but it also encourages our zero waste to landfill philosophy. Subsequently, contributing to our mission to be carbon neutral”.

More than just a Washing Machine
Having access to low-cost electrical goods could be the difference between keeping a tenancy and falling into crisis. Clients who cannot afford to replace a broken appliance (such as a washing machine or fridge), could turn to payday lenders or loan sharks as a short-term solution. This can easily lead to falling into arrears, with debt being the number one cause of homelessness in Greater Manchester.

One study from ‘No Place Like Home’, a report into poverty and furnished tenancy provision in social housing, captures why something as simple as a washing machine can provide dignity and even create opportunity for someone to improve their employment prospects:

“It would be nice to have had a washing machine included in the tenancy provision package, simply because of self-sufficiency, do you know what I mean? I can come home, wash and dry my clothes when I come home at the end of the day. Then I can go and get a job and my life can get nice again.”

A sizeable opportunity arose when Molo Hotels offered 80+ washing machines and dryers during a clearance of the La Reserve Aparthotel — enough goods to stock our Community Shops for over three months. Andrew Ross who oversaw the collection understood the significance of the donation, and that Molo Hotels were “very happy to be working with a local charity and delighted that the goods will be put to good use”.

Perfectly good items otherwise destined for landfill were kindly donated by Beever and Struthers Chartered Accountants and Business Advisors during an office move, including multiple fridges, freezers, microwaves, toasters and kettles.

Geraldine Finn, Marketing & Business Development Director says: “Mustard Tree is one of our client’s and also a neighbour in Ancoats, where we seek, as sensitively as possible, to take into account the wishes of our neighbours whilst managing our business. Many of our employees are involved in charities and schools as trustees, governors and volunteers.

"We are well aware of the need to give something back and are always on the lookout for ways we can support the surrounding communities where we operate.”

This was also the case with Wavemaker, who donated white goods, furniture and electricals as part of their relocation.Uncovering the True Scale of Poverty in Manchester
Our team first discovered how deep the problem ran during the first Covid-19 lockdown, when we distributed food across Greater Manchester on behalf of Manchester Council. Visiting homes uncovered the true scale of poverty in Manchester, as we found people did not have basic appliances to cook with such as toasters, microwaves and cookers.“We were giving people food that they couldn’t eat and we were having to refine our model because people didn’t have microwaves, or were boiling noodles in a kettle. It took us aback and didn’t realise it was so bad right on our doorstep.”Donations from The HUT Group are providing a steady stream of household goods to help clients make a house a home. Furnishings and decorative items can help create a warm environment and are often the items most lacking from social housing when a new tenancy is acquired.The Impact
A week before registering with Mustard Tree and receiving his furniture voucher, Gavin was sleeping on the floor of his flat with a blanket, without even a carpet beneath him. Thanks to donations to our Community Shop, Gavin was able to receive a double bed, sofa and TV stand for his new property.

Whether an individual or a business, big or small collection, we want to say a huge thank you to everyone who donates their preloved items to us — the above chart illustrates how far those items can go to help make a house a home

How you can help
Do you own a business or know a company which is looking to refurbish or relocate?

Due to our commitment to gift 40% of furniture donations we receive directly to people in need, our Community Shops are always in high demand of the following items:

  • Sofas and armchairs (good, clean condition, fire labels attached)
  • White Goods (fridges, freezers, washing machines, dryers)
  • Electrical items (microwaves, toasters, kettles, air fryers, slow cookers)
  • Beds (intact with good, clean condition mattress)
  • Dining Tables and chairs
  • Wardrobes, chest of drawers, bedside cabinets
  • Household items and kitchenware

Read the full article here:

Written by Jack Barton and Geraldine Finn.

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