Tuesday 27 October 2015

A day in the life of James

James refurbishing chair

James, a companion at Emmaus Leeds is a skilled and passionate up-cycler, who helps run the workshop and restore furniture on a daily basis. Here’s a glimpse into his life at Emmaus...

I come down and sign for the keys around 8:30am. Before opening the workshop I speak to a member of staff about any maintenance issues that need to be prioritised that day. Jobs like this often fall under my remit due to my previous experience in maintenance and woodwork. From changing light bulbs and replacing locks to mending toilets and replacing floorboards I’m the man for the job.

Once that’s been taken care of I go down to the workshop and start by repairing any purchased items. When items are stored in the container, small damages can sometimes occur, such as chair legs snapping off or backs of sideboards coming loose. These repairs are an important part of my day as they ensure our customers are receiving the best possible service and items from our shops.

After that, I turn my attention to donations and look to repair any noticeable damage. People often donate furniture because it’s old, so I make it my job to get it looking as good as new. I start by steaming out any dints and sanding out scratches before staining the item and applying the wax. Once the piece has been restored, I will price it up accordingly and send it up to the shop. Other companions know to bring damaged items to me and I often walk around the warehouse and shop to see what items we have and what can be upcycled. If I can add value to an item I will.

James reupholstering chair

I have recently upcycled two dressers and a wall unit which have been totally transformed. I start by taking off all the fixtures and doors before gluing down any peeling veneer. Once that’s done I mix up the filler and fill any cracks or scratches, wait until the glue has set, and remove any clamps that are holding the item in place. Once the basic repairs have been done I will sand the unit down, dust off with a brush and apply two coats of acrylic primer, before repeating the sanding and dusting process and applying two coats of chalk or egg shell paint. It’s all finished off with a final wax and the fixtures are cleaned and replaced. For a shabby-chic effect I change techniques and distress the furniture with sand paper and a chisel.

James creating a shabby chic look

The thing I enjoy most about upcycling is when we get water damaged items and I am able to restore it back to its former glory, or make it look better than it ever had. Being able to sell my work is also very rewarding - I get a lot of satisfaction out of that. 

There are lots of books in the workshop that help to give me ideas and provide examples of different design techniques – shabby chic, art deco, gold leaf and stencilling  to name just a few. The internet is a great resource too and I spend lots of time researching. 

I enjoy Emmaus because the work gives me structure – I get up and have something to do. Before and during my homelessness, if someone had just given me a job I wouldn’t be at Emmaus right now. I applied for everything. I have the skills and I’m willing to work but it just didn’t come my way. This is my fresh start.   

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