Croydon enterprise teaches young people life skills

Youngsters at CRO learn how to upcycle furniture Pic: Vicky Lo-Chi Tseng

“We aim to take waste out of the waste stream and find ways to use it to create a sustainable business.” This is the slogan of a new non-profit enterprise, the Croydon Reuse Organisation (CRO).

The Croydon Reuse Organisation is an innovative project that teaches young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEETs) the skills required to “upcycle” furniture. The pop-up held its opening night on February 3 in their new location in Church Road, inviting Croydon locals to view some of the furniture produced through the new endeavour.

The project began last October and has since received funding from the Greater London Authority’s Mayor’s Regeneration Fund. Croydon residents Eunice and Andrew Dickinson head the program; they hope that it will help to fill an educational/employment gap, common in Croydon’s younger generation. The CRO’s new units were created by the Office for Crafted Architecture (OfCA).

Eunice felt that the skills of the past, such as carpentry, upholstery must be preserved. She said: “I felt there was a need within the community to utilise the waste stream to more thrifty while at the same time helping the young to develop their skills.

“Currently we are working with NEETs, we have done fantastic projects with them so far to date, but we want to also involve the more average community and to have a more inter-generational project.”

So far the venture has helped 20 young people take part in more than 40 building projects, creating items such as tables, chairs, shelving, benches and chests of drawers.

Peter Antony, one of the current NEETs on the project, was very positive about his experience. “It really helps young people get off the streets and learn new stuff. I think most teenagers won’t know about construction and the CRO can really help them. This will actually help give an idea to young people about how to get their lives settled.”

Adil Adair, workshop manager at the CRO, who joined the programme as a NEET himself and having completed it, now mentors young people. “If I had to sum it up in one word, I’d say ‘adventure’ because it has been very emotional sometimes, and a life journey for me to be able to help other people.”

The enterprise has previously collaborated with Lives Not Knives and Hackney-based Muf Architecture running three workshops for young people who made furniture from old wooden pallets.

Already, the project has had its first commission, by local business Parklife, previously known as ‘Lloyd Park Café’, who ordered tables and benches for their reopening.

Clair Murphy, owner of Parklife, said: “When the furniture arrived, it was so fabulous. Meeting the boys who made the tables and seeing how proud they were of the work they had done, that made everything better than receiving the tables themselves.”

Upcycled furniture from CRO in Croydon’s Parklife cafe Pic: Vicky Lo-Chi Tseng

Alongside this, the CRO also collects old ground coffee beans from cafes around Croydon to grow oyster mushrooms in, locally known as “Cr’Oyster” mushrooms. After about six weeks, the mushrooms are then sold to individuals as well as Croydon restaurants and the profits are reinvested into the expansion of CRO.

Councillor Alison Butler, deputy leader and cabinet member for homes, regeneration and planning, said:“CRO is a really exciting enterprise and an excellent example of how projects can bring different people together and boost community cohesion, while helping local people.”

This project has revitalised an area of Croydon that previously received little attention and was under-utilised. With job centres around the UK under threat of merger or closure in a £180m cost saving plan by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), including a branch in Croydon, the CRO upcycling and training format could be one that other areas will copy.

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