Lancashire

Blackburn and Darwen churches furniture depots to close

Terry Young, Fred Milligan, Alan Barnes
Image caption Terry Young, Fred Milligan and Alan Barnes are worried about an increased risk of fly-tipping

Two depots which offer free reconditioned furniture and white goods to needy households in east Lancashire are to close.

The stores are being forced to shut their doors because Blackburn with Darwen Council can no longer offer them the money they need to survive.

In addition, the trustees say a change in government rules regarding traineeships has made their popular training project unworkable.

The stores served 1,400 people in 2010.

"It's just not viable for us to continue," said Alan Barnes, Chair of the Trustees of Blackburn with Darwen Churches Action.

The service was launched 15 years ago by local churches who wanted to help people who were struggling to make ends meet. "It was born out of a vision of the churches caring for people with a need because they simply hadn't got enough," said Mr Barnes.

The group initially launched a furniture store in Darwen, and very soon afterwards a Blackburn branch was started. "It just took off," Methodist minister Terry Young told BBC Radio Lancashire. "It just got bigger and bigger."

With help from the Church Urban Fund they were able to move into their two current premises close to Darwen railway station and on the edge of Blackburn.

'Distressed state'

Local MP Jack Straw helped them get the council involved and with their help they set about collecting white goods, restoring them and passing them on to very grateful clients.

General manager Fred Milligan has been involved with the furniture store for 14 years. Standing in the centre of their Blackburn warehouse filled with donated sofas, wardrobes and tables, he said: "The need is greater than ever. We see all the people who have had their homes repossessed and they are in a distressed state."

Alan Barnes says their current problem is finance: "Lots of charities have suffered with the cutbacks. The borough council, who have previously been very generous, are now unable to give us any money whatsoever.

"In addition, we had a very productive training scheme but the government has changed the rules and the income we used to get as the result of having trainees here is going to be withdrawn."

The result is a closure of both depots, though the work done at the Darwen operation will be modified and reopened with the help of local churches in the town.

Mr Barnes is also worried the Blackburn closure will increase fly tipping in the town. "All the goods that currently come into the warehouse you may now find being dumped in the back alleyways and country lanes.

"I think people are happy to ring up and offer furniture that has a bit of a lease of life in it. They may not be quite so happy if they know they are going to be charged for taking it away and they may be tempted to simply dump it, which is a sad reflection of the times."

The team are keen to make the point that they do not blame the council for their current predicament. "It would be good if they could have helped, even in a reduced way," said Mr Barnes. "But they simply can't."

Volunteer and trustee Sheila Curry says it is a dreadful situation. "It's devastating. Not only does the furniture store do a lot of good for people who need help, it is also devastating for the volunteers who have put so much time in."

She says it is a vicious circle: "The council can't afford to help because of the difficult times. That means we can't help the very people who need help because of those same difficult times. They will suffer even more because they can't afford to buy new furniture."

"It isn't just the furniture," she continued. "I like to feel our clients go out with more self-respect than they came in with. We want them to feel there is a chance for them and they can get themselves going again."

When asked who would offer that self-respect when the store closes, she replied: "They say nature abhors a vacuum. Let's hope somehow the work carries on, but I honestly can't see at the moment how that is possible."

Joe Wilson presents the faith programme on BBC Radio Lancashire from 6am each Sunday.

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