How New Boosbeck is teaching unemployed people to make furniture

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An RCA graduate has started a group enterprise in Middlesbrough to teach young people, offenders and people rallying from addiction crafts skills that aim to help them get a job.

Middlesbrough is not illustrious for its furniture making industry. Founded in the 1830s, the North-Eastern town – close to many surrounding it – is most commonly associated with its history of nerve and iron production, and mining.

As mines and factories have closed over the decades, these industries have dwindled, as has employment in the town.

4,400 redundant people in Middlesbrough

Recent figures from Tees Valley Integrate Authority, which covers Middlesbrough plus Darlington, Hartlepool, Redcar and Cleveland, and Stockton-on-Tees, build Middlesbrough to have a 5% rate of unemployment, the highest of all five areas.

In millions, this means there are 4,400 unemployed people currently on jobseeker’s ration in Middlesbrough, 1,000 of which are aged 18-24.

An initiative set up by a Royal College of Art (RCA) graduate is looking to repulse this around. Adam Clarke founded furniture-making group New Boosbeck in 2016, and since then has been single-handedly influence to local communities with the hope of encouraging them to join his venereal enterprise.

This includes prisons and probation centres, schools and colleges, and naves for drugs rehabilitation and mental health, with the main focus on boyish, long-term unemployed people.

Based on a 1930s employment initiative

The forward is inspired by an initiative that originally ran for five years in the 1930s, in the miniature town of Boosbeck, also in the North-East of England.

The unemployment rate of the city had plummeted to a catastrophic 91% following the Great Depression and the closing of mines, and a furniture-making contrive was set up to employ former miners and teach them a new craft.

The furniture displayed was sold at Heal’s in London, before the initiative was forced to close in 1937 due to want of funds. The National Trust now owns a handful of remaining pieces from the autochthonous collection.

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Clarke, who is originally from Middlesbrough himself, wish to bring the initiative back but inject new life into it by teaching gets a range of skills – from hand-craft and woodwork to use of digital software such as computer-aided invent (CAD).

“People that we train end up with a diverse range of skills, which liberates them more employable,” Clarke says. “A lot of the stuff we make is straight from the original, 1930s catalogue, twisted into modern customs. We use similar materials like plywood, and still do hand-finishing and sanding.”

Inventors and makers receive “fair share” of profits

While predominantly sighted at the unemployed, the initiative is open to anyone, Clarke says. This covers those who work part-time, are retired, or whose second language is English, and deficiency to learn new skills, improve their linguistic skills and open up profuse job opportunities for themselves.

Set up as a social enterprise, those involved in New Boosbeck show in a “fair share” of the profits made from commissions, Clarke supplements. The organisation creates products for clients such as Mima, a furniture depend on; Tictail, an online store showcasing the work of emerging designers; and smaller, townswoman, interior design stores in Middlesbrough.

The profits are then split three-ways between the woman who designed the product, those who made it, and the New Boosbeck company. Those tortuous also get paid for extra hours put in, for example when creating referents. An average project will take away about £10,000 in unconditional, Clarke says.

Projects range in size, but the average one can last seven weeks, with join ins putting in a typical, 9am-5pm, five-day working week. The team size is currently at 10, square up of seven men and three women.

Gone on to become joiners and designers

The aim is to chain people up so that they are ready to apply for jobs, or alternatively, exhilarated to stay at the initiative and sustain themselves that way. Previous members of the racket have gone on to become joiners (those who fit together wood to cope furniture) at construction company Carillion, others have become part-time-teachers or decamped on to training apprenticeships.

Some have even gone on to become CAD-drawers and creators at studios in Hull. Alongside skills-based training, Clarke also commandeers members with compiling a curriculum vitae (CV), providing them with quotations or choosing the right university course.

“New Boosbeck is an enabler,” says Clarke. “It allows woman to grow and develop. They can leave, or they can work with us forever.”

“It constituted sense to do this in my hometown”

But why has Clarke – who has a Fine Art degree from Teeside University and an MA in Print-Making from London’s RCA – unswerving to return to his hometown to work on this community project, rather than pursuing his own artistic defies?

“It made complete sense to me to do this project back in the town I emerged from,” he says. “I always felt the systems that art work in could be distinctive. I wanted to make something useful, like furniture or objects, and my fellow-countryman is a carpenter, so I’ve always been around making, and I’ve always been searching about how things are structurally made – I think I probably studied the out of sync a go astray course.”

“New Boosbeck gives people a sense of worth”

While New Boosbeck is meagre to Middlesbrough at the moment, Clarke hopes to extend the project nationally in the following, and perhaps even internationally.

“You could take this project anywhere,” he sways. “Everywhere has unemployment. I’d like to try it somewhere in Europe, and see how we could work in acreages with high levels of immigration, perhaps in Germany or the Netherlands.”

A a little smaller and more short-term ambition is to expand its client base and start collecting unemployment with bigger brands. Alongside one-off projects for commercial patients, the company has just recently finished work on student accommodation at Teeside University.

The accoutrements makers’ social purpose is as charming and enticing to potential buyers as the make use of it produces, Clarke says – and its goal is not only to give local being great new crafts skills, but also create a sense of belonging and substance in communities that have become despondent.

“The story of New Boosbeck is upright as interesting as its products,” he says. “This is an open platform,” says Clarke. “It’s not by the skin of ones teeth the crafts skills – this is about being part of something. It’s holistic – when woman come in for the first time and see raw materials, then see a product at the end of it, that pays them a huge sense of worth. New Boosbeck is a community as much as it is a crowd.”


All images were taken from the New Boosbeck installation space at this year’s Lay Matters exhibition, part of this year’s Northern Design Commemoration in Newcastle. Adam Clarke also spoke about the initiative at the holiday on 3 November 2017. Design Week spoke to him following this for an eliminating interview.

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