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Prized draws

Don't throw out those old desks - they might be worth something. Elaine Williams talks to the man who will buy them from you

Schools are often relieved to ditch their old wooden knockabout tables and chairs for something more streamlined and sanitary. But if they send them to the tip they could miss out on the chance to earn extra cash.

For it seems the plain, solid utilitarianism of English school furniture appeals to continental tastes. Wander into a bar in Belgium, Italy or Germany and you may find old science benches and glazed store cupboards, lockers, library shelves, school chairs and dining tables scattered about the place.

Mike Disley makes his living by raking through old school clutter and taking away furniture to transform into kitchen units, bar and shop fittings for European customers.

"I hear horror stories of furniture being burnt and broken up, or schools even paying people to take it away, when they could sell it to boost funds. I have paid up to Pounds 15,000 to a school for the right kind of stuff," he says.

Unlike the British, who tend to have fancier tastes, continentals like the plain, solid appearance of old school furniture which cannot be found in Europe. "They like oak in particular, especially in Belgium and Holland. They like plain oak school cupboards with tongue-and-groove doors, the typically English thing."

Mr Disley used to deal in old pine. Then, 10 years ago, his then neighbouring primary in Wales had a clear-out. "I bought up some of the furniture and I've never looked back.

"I particularly want big old tables and benches because they're great for kitchen units, shops and bars. We're slowly catching on to it over here as well - I recently decked out a pub in Islington. Lots of schools are refurbishing I they just need to know they could make some money out of it."

Mike Disley, a council-approved contractor, is available on 0802 923879 and 01304 241313

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