Words & pics by Ed King
On Monday 3rd August, Upcycle Birmingham launches its new showroom – selling second hand furniture and household goods at ‘an affordable price’, whilst raising money for community projects and support services on the Castle Vale estate.
Taking over the old St Gerrards community hall, Upcycle Birmingham has moved its large furniture facility into centre of Castle Vale – relocating from its previous premises on the Castle Vale Enterprise Park, situated off Park Lane.
With a sister shop on the local High Street, which sells smaller household items and clothes, Upcycle Birmingham now has all of its public operations right in the heart of Castle Vale – within easy walking distance of each other, as well as the estate’s main shopping and social hub.
“We set Upcycle up about six and half years ago,” explains Judy Tullett – Community Services Coordinator at Spitfire Services – who created and operate the social enterprise, “with funding from the end of the Endowment Trust – legacy funding from the Housing Action Trust.
“It was always people’s vision that there would be a place where we would not only sell good quality second hand furniture, but where people could volunteer and come in and have a gossip as well. And that’s exactly what it’s turned out to be.”
“By being in the centre of the estate, we can attract more people,” adds Ray Goodwin – CEO at Spitfire Services, “and we’ve done a lot of learning – we looked at selling more online, but unless you specialise in antiques and high end stuff it just doesn’t work. Do what you do and do it well.”
Opening in January 2014, Upcycle Birmingham is a ‘thriving furniture recycling business that helps people transform their homes with low cost, high quality goods.’
The Castle Vale based social enterprise, run diligently by a team of around 26 dedicated volunteers, sources unwanted stock – donated by local businesses and residents. The items are then cleaned, polished, and presented to the public at a significant saving.
But quality is key, with Upcycle Birmingham only accepting and reselling items that are still fit for purpose and in good condition. Erdington Local used the Castle Vale based social enterprise to furnish its newsroom – buying desks and office equipment that would have cost ten-fold from a branded retailer.
“I went it to research a story and came out with a van load of desk and tables,” admits Ed King, Editor-in-Chief of Erdington Local. “I usually buy bits of office equipment from a reclamation yard in Digbeth, but the quality at Upcycle Birmingham was a different level.
“Before I had finished talking to the staff and arranging our interviews, I’d bought a thick glass topped desk to replace the wooden one I’ve been working from.
“It’s beautiful, in great condition, and cost me £20. To buy it new you’d be looking at around £300 minimum. Upcycle Birmingham saved me a small fortune.”
Upcycle Birmingham have also ensured they are protected again coronavirus, sterilising all new items and placing them into a 72hr quarantine – ensuring no trace of COVID-19 could be passed on through a sale.
Both the showroom and High Street shop also operate under Government guidelines to combat the spread of coronavirus, implementing social distancing measures and hand sanitiser points for all customers.
“Because of the lockdown we’ve had lots of new donations,” tells Sue Spicer, a local resident and volunteer who has worked at Upcycle Birmingham since it opened.
“But we have to isolate all items for three days before we can touch them. Everything is stored at Spitfire House before we can sterilise it and bring it over to the shop.”
Established and operated by Spitfire Services, with initial investment also coming from The Pioneer Group – though its Employment and Enterprise Trust Fund – Upcycle Birmingham first opened its doors in January 2014.
But as with many of the social enterprises supported or run by Spitfire Services, including Castle Vale Library and Castle Pool, Upcycle Birmingham is as much about community as it is about commerce – providing more than just a reasonable price for the people it serves.
“It’s more of a community hub being here,” continues Sue Spicer, “if you didn’t have a car you had a long walk to get to the old place.
“It’s good that were more local now. And it’s good for families, especially with things like children’s clothes… we call it the boutique on the high street.
“But the big thing is the sense of community – people come in and have a natter, they don’t’ always have to be buying something.
“Before coronavirus and the lockdown, if someone came in and they looked like they needed a friendly face, we’d invite them to sit down and have a cup of tea and a chat.
“And the kids love to come in and have a mooch after school too, with their parents or grandparents. We can’t do that as much at the moment because we’re only allowed limited numbers in the shop.”
In six and a half years, Upcycle Birmingham has become a firm fixture on the Castle Vale estate – now accepting 120 tonnes of stock each year and selling quality items to hundreds of households. Hopes are that the more central location of its new showroom will allow them to reach even more residents.
Celebrated and championed by the Erdington MP, Jack Dromey, the Castle Vale social enterprise also receives regular visits from its member of parliament.
“There are homes throughout Erdington with residents who could not afford to furnish them,” tells Jack Dromey MP – after visiting the new showroom before they opened their doors to the public.
“Thanks to Upcycle, these families can be proud of where they are bringing their children up. A remarkable organisation led by the inspirational Judy Tullett, Upcycle takes what local residents no longer want and gives it those who need.”
To learn more about Upcycle Birmingham, visit www.upcyclebirmingham.org.uk
To learn more about Spitfire Services, visit www.spitfireservices.org.uk