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Church volunteers turning out rough furniture from pallets to help rough sleepers off east London streets

PUBLISHED: 07:00 11 November 2017 | UPDATED: 18:20 14 November 2017

Karl Clayden turning discarded pallets into furniture for the Renew East London project helping rough sleepers off the streets. Picture: Mike Brooke

Karl Clayden turning discarded pallets into furniture for the Renew East London project helping rough sleepers off the streets. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

Churches running a night shelter for rough sleepers are helping to get them off the streets of east London by creating ‘rough’ furniture out of discarded wooden pallets.

Rachel Arnold launching the churches' Renew East London project. Picture: Mike Brooke Rachel Arnold launching the churches' Renew East London project. Picture: Mike Brooke

Their ‘Renew East London’ project launched this month has set up a workshop in the basement of St Paul’s Institute in The Highway, next to Shadwell’s parish church, to train the homeless to be skilled carpenters and furniture-makers to give them self-confidence to get back into society.

“We make anything people want from the pallets that we collect on the streets,” project director Rachael Arnold tells Thursday’s East London Advertiser.

“There are always pallets around—there’s no shortage. We just drive along The Highway and pick them up.”

Rachel Arnold has a love for turning discarded pallets into furniture. Picture: Mike Brooke Rachel Arnold has a love for turning discarded pallets into furniture. Picture: Mike Brooke

The pallets would normally have no further use after transporting goods. But Rachel’s volunteers have found another use for them teaching carpentry.

“We pay the London rate to the people we help if we can ‘grow’ them into skilled furniture makers,” she explains. “The rough sleepers need a community, something to be involved in, which is what this project gives them.”

It’s a cottage industry reminiscent of the East End’s once-thriving furniture trade that boomed for centuries.

Rehabilitated former alcoholic Kaspars Parups uses his new carpentry skills to help others. Picture: Mike Brooke Rehabilitated former alcoholic Kaspars Parups uses his new carpentry skills to help others. Picture: Mike Brooke

The pallet project has started with just three homeless people so far, but acknowledges there are “many more on the streets”.

Kaspars Parups, now 40, was an alcoholic on the streets of Whitechapel and Bethnal Green for four years before going into rehab and turning his life around.

He learned carpentry and is now employed leading the outreach work at Bethnal Green’s Good Shepherd Mission, one of the churches involved in the night shelter, and teaches others his skills.

Karl beavers away in the institute's basement churning out pallet furniture. Picture: Mike Brooke Karl beavers away in the institute's basement churning out pallet furniture. Picture: Mike Brooke

“I know what it’s like being on the streets,” he recalls. “I was a drug addict, but learned how to restore second-hand furniture and got my self-confidence back.”

He helped get the pallet project off the ground through a ‘dragon’s den’ investment evening at the Bromley-by-Bow centre against competing social enterprises.

It landed an £18,000 grant, enough to set up a workshop in the institute’s basement.

Furniture made from discarded pallets found on east London streets. Picture: Renew East London Furniture made from discarded pallets found on east London streets. Picture: Renew East London

Beavering away in the basement is workshop manager Karl Clayden, a housing officer who at 51 was made redundant after 25 years.

He expected to go into another job in housing. “But God had other ideas and got me involved in church volunteer work,” he tells you. “I’m still doing it four years on.”

He teaches his trainees to turn designs into coffee tables, bookcases, shelving or anything they can make from pallets, admitting the furniture is “a bit rough and ready, but that’s their appeal”.

Coffee shops are among his customers for tables with the ‘rough’ look—ideal to help rough sleepers back into society.

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