FEATURE: ‘It gives you a release’ – Stevenage and Whitwell volunteers on how retail therapy is changing their lives

The workshop full of the volunteers' colourful furniture

The workshop full of the volunteers' colourful furniture - Credit: Archant

A project which helps vulnerable adults piece their lives back together is going from strength to strength, with an open day taking place today.

Volunteer Jan Steadman

Volunteer Jan Steadman - Credit: Archant

Recover is a social enterprise aimed at helping adults who have been treated for alcohol or drug dependency, are homeless or have mental health issues.

Volunteers, who all have troubled backgrounds, transform old unwanted furniture into beautiful items, which are then sold and the money ploughed back into the project.

Volunteer Jan Steadman lives in Stevenage and has been a Recover volunteer for about six months. She suffers from depression and joined the team after hearing about the project at a fete.

“I love it and it is really helping me,” she said.

Volunteer Jan Steadman goes to work on a table.

Volunteer Jan Steadman goes to work on a table. - Credit: Archant


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“I have learned how to paint chairs and I have done a patchwork chair I’m really pleased with.

“We all work very hard and we feel really proud of what we are achieving.

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“What’s good is that they teach you new skills and it’s nice to have people who accept you for who you are.”

The venture is run by Ian Block, who used to be a key worker assessing people with alcohol or drug dependency. He realised there was a major lack of support for people who have worked hard to kick their habit.

Volunteer Alison Surrey

Volunteer Alison Surrey - Credit: Archant

He said: “It was like a revolving door. People went through treatment but then there wasn’t enough in place to help them afterwards.

“If nothing changes after treatment, they just slip back into their old habits. They give up because they are frustrated.”

Ian gave up his job to start Recover in a bid to help people rebuild their lives.

With funding from Herts County Council, he moved into a unit in Welwyn Garden City in January 2013. The building was dilapidated and Ian gutted and decorated it and has since helped about 80 people get back on their feet.

“They have a lot more to give than they realise,” he said. “They have been put down and abused all their lives.

“A lot of people feel they have burned many bridges due to the lives they have led, but have now rebuilt their family and friends network.

“Quite often they think people have written them off, but friends and family who care just want to see them do something positive for themselves and, once they do, they are welcomed back.”

Volunteers are taught traditional artisan methods of painting and restoring furniture, as well as upholstery. They can also take accredited courses in computer skills, fire marshalling, manual handling, first aid and food hygiene.

Ian said: “The plan is to get people back into employment and to rebuild their social lives.

“The criteria I use to recruit volunteers requires people to have been through treatment and be no longer dependant on alcohol or drugs.

“They need to turn up and be reliable. The rest we can teach.

“We encourage creativity and we keep in touch with current trends. We listen to the team’s ideas and then try to make it achievable in a reasonable amount of time. Their patience and calmness does improve quickly.”

Volunteer Alison Surrey lives in Whitwell and has also been with Recover for about six months. She has four children, is unemployed and has suffered a marriage breakdown.

She said: “I absolutely love it. I go home and can’t wait to come back. It’s such a lovely atmosphere to work in. You don’t feel threatened and there is no mistrust. It gives you that release.”

Recover’s open day today runs from 10am to 5pm at Unit 19 in Tewin Court, Welwyn Garden City. For more information visit www.recoverteam.co.uk.

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