12 January 2022

Giving old furniture a new lease of life has become an incredibly popular hobby for a lot of people. However, upcycling also provides a fantastic learning and development opportunity for young people.

The West Kent branch of YMCA Thames Gateway group runs an Upcycling Centre which provides training for young people in upcycling skills, working with both furniture and bikes. Run as a social enterprise, the project employs interns and offers six-month opportunities through the government’s Kickstart scheme. And now, thanks to the Royal Victoria Place shopping centre in Tunbridge Wells, the incredible results from the furniture upcycling project are being showcased and sold from a unit in the centre for the two years.

Working with experienced staff in their Tonbridge-based workshop, the young people are responsible for their projects, seeing them through from beginning to end – from deciding which piece they want to work on and carrying out the work, to pricing and selling the finished project. Using paint from Dulux, Farrow and Ball and Johnson’s paint, kindly donated at the very start of the project, all items are finished to a high standard.

Amanda Sheer is the Business Development Manager for YMCA West Kent:

“We’re so grateful to Royal Victoria Place for this opportunity – showing the quality of the work our young people produce is so important, and having a pop-up shop has allowed us to do this.

“The process allows them to learn a whole host of valuable business and employability skills, such as administrative and IT tasks, promotional and marketing skills, financial awareness, Health and Safety training, customer service skills, team building and business development. And thanks to our pop-up shop, face to face selling and window dressing skills can be added to their portfolio!”

Nicky Blanchard, centre manager at Royal Victoria Place, said: “We’re so excited to be able to support the West Kent branch of the YMCA on its innovative upcycling project. Not only because it promotes the benefits of recycling furniture, but also because it helps young people develop valuable skills.”

“The work we’ve seen produced by our talented local community is stylish and unique. We’re sure that our visitors to the centre will be inspired by these one-of-a-kind creations which are bursting with character.”

As well as furniture upcycling, a team focuses on giving bikes a new lease of life through the Bike Project. A variety of children’s and adult bikes donated to the charity are stripped, refurbished and resold, providing new skills for young people and much-needed income for YMCA West Kent.

The Upcycling Centre – located in Vale Rise, Tonbridge – is open for people to visit and browse, and bespoke orders can be placed.

“Many people buy older pieces of furniture from our high street shops, then commission us to regenerate them. This allows them to choose their own colours and finishes, and have the piece tailored to their décor at home!” said Amanda.

To check out the current range of furniture on offer, or to discuss your own bespoke project, pop in to the Royal Victoria Place shopping centre in Tunbridge Wells, Monday to Friday between 9.30am and 4.30pm. You can check out the variety of upcycled items on Instagram @wkymca_furniture