Following on from their joint win in the Innovation category at the 2019 Wandsworth Business Awards, South Thames College and Wandsworth Oasis have combined again to launch a new innovative community project at Southside Shopping Centre, called ‘Start Upholstery.’

As part of the project, Wandsworth Oasis donate second-hand items from their furniture store, and a specialist Tutor from South Thames College teaches local adults how to upholster the stock, as well as develop their employability skills through accredited qualifications, and consider the option of starting their own upholstery business. It is planned for other Chamber members to support the programme by delivering short master-classes on topics such as finance, and going self-employed.

Once the stock has been restored, it will then be re-sold in one of the charities’ stores. Learners on the programme will also be able to access work experience opportunities in the stores at the end of their course. The programme is free to adults, and may be of benefit to those looking to change career, return to the world of work, or who may be coming back from long-term health challenges.

‘Start Upholstery’ was officially opened by the Mayor of Wandsworth, Councillor Jane Cooper on Friday 4th December 2020 (pictured), during a ceremony in the unit at Southside, as part of the Rainbow Rising (www.rainbowrising.org.uk) initiative in the previous Debenhams unit, which provides pop-up shop opportunities for charity and community organisations.

Kate Turney from South Thames College, who, alongside Alex Watson the Upholstery Lecturer, led on the design and implementation of the project said: “This project is a great way for South Thames College to take our courses into the heart of the community in Wandsworth. Our partnership with Wandsworth Oasis has allowed us to be part of a radical rethink of the way we use empty spaces on our high street. By transforming a retail outlet into an upholstery workshop, we have been able to bring training to those who most need new skills and opportunities and, in addition, support the continuation of traditional craft skills, teaching people how to recycle and restore furniture which might otherwise end up in landfill.”

 Alexandra Wyatt, Community Engagement Manager at Wandsworth Oasis added: “Wandsworth Oasis are delighted to team up with South Thames College again for another great community partnership initiative. Start Upholstery not only gives training, new skill sets, and confidence to those taking part, but also is reducing furniture landfill by upcycling pre-loved items that need that little lift to showcase what can we done. We are pleased to be part of this joint venture and excited to see some of the final finished pieces of furniture which we will proudly display and sell in our charity shops.”

Steve Pinto (CEO of Wandsworth Chamber of Commerce), who attended the Opening Ceremony, commented: “Wandsworth Chamber is delighted to support South Thames College and Wandsworth Oasis in this exciting new collaboration to develop local upholstery skills. Start Upholstery will give people the skills, confidence and support necessary to gain employment and to even start up their own businesses. This is also a great opportunity for Wandsworth Chamber members to offer mentoring and general business skills development to up and coming new businesses and we are committed to helping this project flourish and grow.”