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Furniture charity funds get the chop

AN award-winning charity is pound;40,000 out of pocket after funding for training was cut in the run-up to the establishment of the Learning and Skills Council.

The Furniture Recycling Project in Gloucester offers cheap furniture to disadvantaged people and provides accredited training to volunteers, some with learning difficulties. Its work and its training for the unemployed has won national awards and plaudits from MPs.

The organisation worked with the former Gloucestershire training and enterprise council (the Link Group), to develop its training, which the TEC had part-funded. But in March last year the charity was told there was no funding for 200001 because of the coming changeover to the LSC.

"We got into a situation where we had a training department, fully accredited, up and running and able to take the contracts, only to be told that unfortunately there wasn't going to be any provision to do so," said projects manager Ian Ellis.

"Barriers were put up saying sorry, we can't issue new contracts," he said. "That has cost us pound;40,000 in lost revenue because all our training has had to be funded from our own pocket."

The project started life in a garage in Gloucester seven years ago. Now it occupies two warehouses at the city's docks and has another branch in nearby Stroud. The charity cllects unwanted furniture, repairs, sells and delivers to disadvantaged groups. It covers six local authority areas, and estimates that it has saved Gloucester City Council pound;250,000 for refuse collection. Two-thirds of its volunteers have gone on into employment or further education.

The organisation offers volunteers national vocational qualifications in warehousing and distribution, retailing and customer care. It also trains people with learning disabilities, offering them accreditation with vocational foundation certificates.

Last year it became the first furniture project in the UK to earn independent NVQ status. The project won the 2000 Whitbread Volunteer Action award for the South-west and has just been awarded a Training for Success award by City amp; Guilds, National Institute of Adult Continuing Education and the Department for Education and Employment.

"We went through a major hurdle last year to become an Employment Service approved provider for training. Yet we didn't even get invited to tender," said Mr Ellis. "We ended up with two box files of paperwork and that was just the bid. It was about two weeks' work, and you can't afford that when you're trying to run a small volunteer organisation."

The charity has now put in a bid for Learning and Skills Council funding.

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