Giving to chair-ity: The story of a furniture-selling social enterprise

Social Investment Business
CDFHS showroom

County Durham Furniture Help Scheme (CDFHS) is a charity which provides affordable furniture across County Durham and the North East.

Established in 2004, CDFHS’ goal is to link people with products they need, particularly furniture and domestic goods. New and second hand items are all sold at affordable prices and customer finance is available via the group’s partnership with a local credit union.

As well as reducing environmental waste through refurbishing and re-selling items, CDFHS also operates as a Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) recycling hub. In 2014 it managed to save 150 tonnes of waste from ending up on landfill sites.

CDFHS also provides employment and voluntary opportunities in the local area through its training and employment services partner Profound Training Services. Their trainees have a good track record (60%) of finding subsequent employment or going on to further training. 

CDFHS receives 18,000+ visitors every year and has built up a fleet of five vehicles to meet the demand for their services. From humble beginnings of just three volunteers, the group has since gone through a period of significant expansion. CDFHS now operates out of three warehouses with a showroom and processing centre on an accessible industrial estate.

However, with the blossoming of their business came new obstacles. The charity’s limited credit history - a symptom of its sharp growth - made it difficult to obtain finance from investors. They also needed premises that were more accessible for their customers and where it was easier to pick up goods.

CDFHS turned to Big Potential where it found the support it needed to move forward. With their approved provider, Numbers for Good, CDFHS managed to conduct detailed financial modelling, design new quality and impact reporting systems and put robust financial controls in place.

Steve Mitton, CEO, said “Having first heard of Big Potential through an off-chance meeting with the provider, Numbers for Good, the programme’s options really left an impression on us. The application process was easy to work with and the guidance supplied helped push our management team beyond its boundaries. I would definitely recommend other social enterprises take note and consider how they can also use a Big Potential grant as a stepping stone to their dreams”.

Although funding only recently been put into action, the combination of internal improvements is already showing signs of improved operational efficiency and increased capacity. The group is now being courted by several high profile mainstream lenders and, with a projected income of £750,000 by June, has its sights set on a new property deal which it aims to finalize by the end of the year.