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The Furniture Project Stranraer Ltd in Stranraer, Dumfries and Galloway

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The Furniture Project has a public social partnership with Dumfries and Galloway Council and a 20-year contract to deliver reuse services. Out of the council’s Zero Waste Park the social enterprise operates the Community Reuse Shop, the first of its kind in Scotland where, since 2017, donated items have been collected, prepared, sold and delivered to Wigtownshire communities. This reuse service has helped avoid more than 250 tonnes of waste being sent to landfill each year and the process identifies further waste which can instead be appropriately recycled.

Sourced from both households and commercial premises, the goods provide affordable homeware for low-income families, although, as Programme Manager Donna McKeand explains, “Consumer demand is growing beyond low-income families and the traditional green consumer to a wider base of people thinking, donating, selling and buying sustainably in specific product categories making second-hand more socially acceptable.”

Cutting its impact

This significantly reduces waste in the community, but the social enterprise is cutting its own carbon footprint through staff engagement, energy efficiency measures and sustainability initiatives.          

Throughout this journey The Furniture Project has used online resources, articles, case studies, and forums to learn about best practice as well as technological solutions to lower its environmental impact. Speaking to sustainability consultants, energy efficiency experts and environmental professionals has helped it develop tailored solutions to tackle its environmental impact.

Measures installed

As Donna acknowledges “the motivation behind implementing these changes is driven by a combination of environmental consciousness, financial prudence, social responsibility, competitive advantage, and employee engagement to achieve sustainable growth, positive impact, and excellence.”

The social enterprise has fitted solar panels along with storage batteries to reduce its reliance on grid electricity. It has also installed air source heat pumps to heat the premises more efficiently and with lower maintenance costs. Both measures were installed by Smartly Charging and will reduce the enterprise’s reliance on fossil fuels as well as its overheads. The social enterprise has also switched over to LED sensor lighting to ensure it isn’t spending on lighting unnecessarily.

So far, The Furniture Project has replaced two vehicles with electric vehicles and is looking to replace another two with hybrid vans. It freely loans out two electric bikes and promotes active travel to its staff as well as through the Rhins Active team. This team promotes bicycle reuse and active travel amongst local schools and communities. Between April 2022 and March 2023, 200 bikes were diverted from landfill and sold affordably, the equivalent of around 2.5 tonnes of waste. The team offer ride sessions catered to specific groups like beginners, women and seniors, allowing them to improve their cycling proficiency in an inclusive environment.

Overcoming challenges

The upfront costs of installing solar panels, air source heat pumps or energy efficient lighting can be significant, and securing the necessary funds can be a barrier. As Donna explains, “Many funding sources have different application processes and criteria, and it can be challenging to determine which funding opportunities are the most suitable. Applying for funding can be time-consuming, as you need to prepare a detailed proposal and provide supporting documentation to demonstrate eligibility and demonstrate the potential impact of the proposed initiatives.” At the end of the day though she says the projects would not have got off the ground without financial support.

Securing the right installer is also a challenge. Implementing new technologies requires technical expertise, ongoing troubleshooting and maintenance support. Donna says the enterprise found it incredibly difficult to find “qualified installers with the necessary skills and experience to ensure the successful implementation and operation of these systems who would travel to our very rural location.”

Advice for others

Donna says to succeed businesses need to think beyond immediate cost savings or positive PR and focus on the underlying business case, “Your employees are your most valuable asset. They will likely be the ones implementing changes, and their ideas and input can help to identify areas of opportunity and challenge. Engage your employees and involve them in creating and implementing your plan.” She continues, “Involving our staff with reuse campaigns boosts morale, fosters a sense of ownership and pride and creates a positive workplace culture focused on shared values, collaboration, and social impact.”

Looking outward she emphasises the importance of building partnerships to “amplify your impact” and keeping your business accountable by establishing KPIs that can be easily measured and tracked. This will help to report on achievements and challenges in a transparent way which “helps to build stakeholder’s trust and commitment”.

Future activities

The social enterprise is seeking a large capital investment to expand its range of services, events and projects. It is looking to upsize its premises to accommodate new social economic and environmental projects over the next 10 to 20 years as well as its growing employee base. The shop itself supports 18 employees, and during the last five years the project has grown from four employees to 24, supporting over 100 young people through work placements and volunteering and on to paid employment. This upsize will correspond with a larger volume of reusable goods available through the community and waste recycling centres.

The Furniture Project was proud to be crowned winner of the Climate and Net Zero Town category at the Scotland Loves Local awards in 2023. The same year it was a finalist at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Small Business of the Year in Sustainability, as well as being recognised with the Social Well-Being Award through Awarding Wigtownshire. It has previously won awards through the VIBES Scottish Environment Business Awards and Scottish Enterprise, among many others.
Third sector
Heat pumpsLow energy lightingSolar PVEnergy storageChargepoint/EV fleet
Waste prevention and management Measuring and monitoringCircular economyFood wasteTransportStaff engagement

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