At first sight Adrian Porter, who lived in Dartington village and works at our Shops, appeared to wear two hats.
One was as founder of a project that brings creative new life to discarded furniture – the ReSTORE. And a second was representing Transition Town Totnes in the development of a spatial plan guiding all development on the estate – as a member of the Estate Framework Placemaking Advisory Group.
In fact one passion lay behind both: his determination to reduce needless waste of natural resources. ‘I found myself increasingly gasping and frowning at how many good solid bits of furniture that just needed a bit of repair ended up in waste and recycling skips, but at first I didn’t feel able to do much about it’.
With quiet inventiveness he approached ReFurnish Devon, a south Devon charitable social enterprise that collects and resells donated second-hand furniture. There he found he was pushing at an open door. CEO David Banks had already been thinking along the same lines. Together they began to work on a shared vision of a place where volunteers, craftspeople and artists upcycled – repaired or creatively developed – unwanted furniture and sold it.
The first thing was finding a property. Adrian remembers being very happy when Carol Richards from the Trust offered them a year’s rent free use of a Shops building in late 2013. The workshop and shop space was previously home to Bernard Leech’s Shinner Bridge Pottery, then potter Marianne de Trey. Adrian felt ‘grateful to have use of a building with such heritage’ which was ‘10 times better than other affordable options’. He worked for free for the first three months as The ReSTORE quickly took off. In two and a half years, he has gone from having a handful of volunteers to nearly 100; he’s repaired, rejuvenated and upcycled nearly 3,000 items; and now even offers an affordable furniture repair service.
‘I never anticipated how much volunteer interest there would be and I’m flabbergasted: it humbles me and continues to surprise me. Some volunteers are retired with a lifetime’s experience and want to do something useful. Others are learning new skills, often younger from older people. It’s also a good place to build confidence after a period of mental or physical ill-health. And it’s become an outlet for artists: a space to sell their work in exchange for volunteer time or a commission. We now host monthly Repair Cafes and also craft workshops and drop-in sessions for members of the public to visit with their own repair/restoration projects in mind.
‘But every day is like spinning plates. We are sometimes over run with furniture donations. Some days we welcome half a dozen volunteers; on others days we just have one. We no longer have any grant support, so we have an ongoing pressure to meet our costs with sales. But we are tucked away here – that is the main challenge.’
Adrian embraced the idea of change near the Shops. ‘There are exciting things happening on the Estate, and it would be great to see it happening down here at the Shops too. I’d love to see a thriving community of ethical shopping here, more opportunities for local arts and crafts people to show their work, and also to live in this environment. New linked housing with individual live/work workshop and studio spaces could perhaps form a new living artisan village, inspired by the Sallertaine community in the Vendee, France. Rather than just moving on and forgetting the past heritage of the Dartington ‘Experiment’ including the Cider Press Shops, this could take the best of the past with the opportunities of the future.’
Formerly a Planning Department Landscape Architect for Teignbridge and Torbay Councils as well as a member of Transition Town Totnes’ building group, Adrian joined the Trust’s Placemaking Advisory Group to help develop our estate framework.
He says: ‘The issue is contentious due to the housing numbers and large areas involved. But the Trust’s previous development work upset local people as it felt out of control, and what was delivered was bog standard and not living up to the values and past ambitions of the Estate. Despite a huge human resource of people, projects and energy on their doorstep, the Trust was previously closed off: they only dealt with large commercial developers and progressive community organisations we didn’t get a look in. Since the Future Homes conference however, this disconnect between the community and the Trust has been replaced by a more authentic partnership.’
‘I’m putting away the disappointment of many years gone by, because to not get involved in this one authentic chance to shape things would be like missing the bus. It’s both exciting and also quite therapeutic to finally voice things after years of frustration. It’s very refreshing as it feels like a genuine opportunity for members of the community to share their ideas and help positively influence the future of Dartington, and provides an opportunity for local people and projects to be realised on estate land.’
Adrian no longer works at the ReStore, but the shop is thriving and welcomes you to buy, volunteer, donate or get otherwise involved with affordable furniture repair. Just contact firstname.lastname@example.org / 01803 868 637 / www.refurnish.org.uk