Shabby2Chic - taking recycling to an art form in Blackpool

PUBLISHED: 16:51 03 October 2011 | UPDATED: 20:05 20 February 2013

Sandra Johnson with a collection of shabby and chic pieces

Sandra Johnson with a collection of shabby and chic pieces

Recycling has been taken to an art form by Sandra Johnson and her team in Blackpool

The print version of this article appeared in the October 2011 issue of Lancashire Life

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Sandra Johnson cant stand waste and, with millions of tonnes of perfectly good household material going into UK landfill sites each year, youd expect her to be one angry lady. Nothing could be further from the truth, but she is a woman on a mission.

Managing director Sandra had been a successful interior designer, working with some of the countrys top house-builders, furnishing their show homes.

It was her use of recycled and renovated furnishings that attracted considerable praise.

It set her on the path to forming her own business two years ago in the form of a Community Interest Company called Shabby2Chic. CICs are designed to give something back to the communities and are not driven purely by profit. Sandras firm certainly fits that bill.

Not only does it give new life to unwanted furniture but it revives traditional skills. More importantly, it recycles lives.

It started up in a small lock-up but the business has now developed on a site at Jackson House in Blackpools Burton Road where it includes workshops and studios providing space for professional artists and craftsmen and women.

Since Shabby2Chics launch Sandra and her colleagues have worked with a range of Lancashire charities helping to teach skills to people who are homeless or dependent on benefits, those suffering from mental health problems and young offenders whose graffiti skills have been channelled into furniture painting and stencilling.

And it is all done without a bean from the taxpayer. We rely totally on sales, says Sandra. We get no funding so we have to make our money by selling what we restore.

Thanks to the standards of craftsmanship and the uniqueness of what we do, we have been getting interest from around the country. For instance, an architectural company in Surrey has been using us for a Grade II listed building being turned into a hotel. Wed like to get into London next.

The award-winning Shabby2Chic team has the talent to see the potential in discarded furniture. It could be a piece which can be restored to its original state, or something more modern like a whacky makeover incorporating angels that wouldnt be out of place in a Botticelli masterpiece.

Youll spot a set of drawers in a shed or a wardrobe that can be upcycled into a beautiful piece and it makes you wonder why people spend silly money on repro pieces, says Sandra. And then there are some people who dont know what theyve got. They think its old-fashioned but, in fact, its an antique.

These pieces talk to you. They have a history and there are little clues that reveal their story. Someone gave us a Davenport because the handles were missing. We restored it and it was worth 1,500. In another piece, we found a hidden panel with a label from the craftsman who made it in 1914.

Around 95 per cent of the furniture rescued by Sandra is recycled into something useful. Shes come a long way from the Armed Forces daughter who travelled the world, ending up in Los Angeles as a bit of a wild child.

I came from LA to Blackpool as a teenager to live at my Auntie Nellies guest house, she recalls. She was a big lady and very strict probably just what I needed!

Auntie Nellies strength and determination obviously rubbed off on Sandra. I sit here in my office looking across the road, she laughs, and if I see a truck picking up rubbish and I spot some furniture, Im out there like a shot!

Talking rubbish

According to Defra, the UK consumes natural resources at an unsustainable rate and contributes unnecessarily to climate change. Each year we generate over 80 million tonnes of waste, which causes environmental damage and costs businesses and consumers money.

However, according to the latest statistics some areas are improving:

40% of waste from households is currently recycled, compared to 11% in 2000-01.

The average residual waste per person has reduced by 76kg since 2006-07 to 275kg per person each year

52 per cent of commercial and industrial waste was recycled or reused in England in 2009, compared to 42 per cent in 2002-3.

However, 55 per cent of municipal waste generated in the UK is still sent to landfill, compared to the European average of 40 per cent.

Recycling in the UK is said to save more than 18 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year equivalent to taking 5 million cars off the road.

The UK produces approximately 7 million tonnes of food waste per year and about 90 million tonnes of animal slurry and manure that could realistically be used to generate electricity via anaerobic digestion technology.

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