Jonny Westbrooke, CEO of The Furniture Makers' Company, the long-standing furnishing industry charity, talks about how it's helping through the pandemic and beyond, and what support is on offer for those who are struggling.
There's no doubt it has been a gruelling few months and will be for many more ahead.
The words 'unprecedented', 'strange', 'crisis' and 'lockdown' have all been part of our daily dialogue along with coronavirus. It really is a testing time. It's been tough.
As many businesses battled back against Covid-19, offering their support to the NHS and front line workers, others have struggled or barely surviving.
Our charity has never had a greater cause to sustain people in the trade and our Personal Support Grants are providing some much-needed hope during this incredibly uncertain time.
For those in need of help, furnishing industry charity, The Furniture Makers' Company is ready to step in.
In fact, it's been quite an 'unprecedented' time for the charity, where it has received 17 times more applications during the last few months when compared to the same period during 2019. It's been a mammoth task for The Furniture Makers' Company and they have a simple message, "We're here to help."
Jonny Westbrooke, CEO of The Furniture Makers' Company, which has been a staple in the furnishing industry since 1903, explained just how important the charity has been in these more recent times, "The pandemic has resulted in a huge surge in applications for financial support from people in the trade. To put it in perspective, the number of Personal Support Grant applications from March to May are 17 times higher than the same period in 2019.
"We have trebled our in-office capacity to meet this demand and have trained three volunteers to help process applications as we anticipate many more to come as the true impact of the crisis unfolds. Having the staff on hand to instantly support people is incredibly important to us as we want to provide peace of mind to anyone who applies."
As Jonny highlighted, The Furniture Makers' Company provides Personal Support Grants. "These are to employees and sole traders working in the UK furnishing industry to help mitigate against the loss of earnings people are experiencing as a result of being furloughed, made redundant, unable to work or a diminished order book," he added.
An individual can apply for a monthly grant of £200, while a married couple can receive a monthly grant of £250. The duration of these grants will depend on the applicant’s changing situation. Sole traders can apply for a one-off grant of £500.
The help and support the charity offers is crucial to the livelihoods of industry workers that face uncertainty. Some recent cases have seen The Furniture Makers' Company secure support for a variety of different scenarios. We found out more.
Nicholas, a self-employed designer-maker, has been unable to complete projects or secure new commissions due to COVID-19. He and his partner had manageable debt from moving home, but the shortage of work has exhausted their reserves and put a financial strain on the relationship.
"Nicholas contacted The Furniture Makers’ Company after searching for support online and was pleased to hear that we could provide a £500 grant for self-employed workers," Jonny revealed.
"The grant will help cover the couple’s household bills and allow Nicholas to buy materials for new designs, putting him in a good position to jumpstart his business once the lockdown is lifted."
Another case is Laura. She was made redundant from her job as a quality assurance officer, which she has worked as for the past seven years. Her partner, an upholsterer at a different company, has worked in the trade for 17 years.
"The shock of redundancy has been immense and sadly the couple had to postpone their wedding which was due to take place in summer 2020. The couple were pleased to be expecting their first child later this year, but now that has been overshadowed by financial uncertainty," Jonny said.
"On receiving the couple’s application for support, we were able to respond quickly and award a two-month hardship grant and they will be able to apply for further months if needed."
Finally, Arnis, an upholsterer for many years, was recently made redundant after the company he worked for entered administration, which happened just before he should have received his monthly wage, leaving him and his wife with little money to pay their upcoming rent.
Jonny explained: "He contacted The Furniture Makers’ Company after hearing about us through his manager and was delighted to find out that we could provide some financial support with a grant."
Arnis added: “We were so pleased to hear from you regarding the grant. It really is a relief at this time and will help us to manage our finances until they are sorted without having to borrow money or take on debt.”
It's clear how vital The Furniture Makers' Company is within the industry, but the charity has had to adapt to its own issues through the pandemic, being forced to cancel some fundraising campaigns, including the much loved - well attended and supported - Big Shots.
"Like everyone, we have been affected by the government restrictions in what we can do. In March we took the decision to cancel all events up to the end of July," Jonny said.
"The restrictions have meant that we have had to be creative with raising money. One initiative was an online auction that will run through the month of July and be hosted on eBay.
"Our message is simple: if you work in the furnishing industry in any function and you are struggling, we may be able to help you. You don’t have to be on the poverty line to receive support from us.
"We exist to help people before it hopefully gets to that stage. Our team are processing applications very quickly and we can get money in people’s accounts within a couple of days, provided we have all the information needed.
"Our charity has never had a greater cause to sustain people in the trade and our Personal Support Grants are providing some much-needed hope during this incredibly uncertain time. Anyone in the industry can help us by spreading the word of our grants by telling co-workers and sharing information on social media and company portals.
"Our One Step at a Time campaign has played a key role in getting the word out to people in the industry. The free campaign asked companies to sign up as One Step Champions and commit to communicating our Personal Support Grants among their employees. On registering, companies will receive free digital and physical collateral to share with employees. We had 104 companies signed up by May 2020 and we want 350 signed up by May 2021."
Sign up to the campaign here: https://www.furnituremakers.org.uk/one-step-at-a-time
For more information about The Furniture Makers’ Company’s Personal Support Grants, visit: www.furnituremakers.org.uk/welfare