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18th June 2017

Restorating Creativity: Q&A with Restoration Station

“Addiction often takes you to a place of hiding, shame and isolation,” says Sheona Alexander, the initial brains behind Restoration Station. “Creativity taps into an aspect of ourselves where these things can no longer be covered up. You can’t have shame over a beautiful piece of furniture that you’ve just restored.” 

Restoration Station is a non-profit social enterprise run as part of the Spitalfields Crypt Trust (SCT). The programme was founded in 2014 and runs workshops for recovering addicts equipping them with valuable skills in woodwork and furniture restoration. The motivation is simple: by participants learning a new craft, and restoring a piece of furniture that they can be proud of, Restoration Station helps participants in their long term recovery; building confidence and increasing future job prospects. Restoration Station volunteers work to restore antique furniture – much of it donated – which is then sold to members of the public when the workshop opens its doors onto Shoreditch High Street. Restoration Station receives no government funding and therefore relies on grants, help from volunteers and the donation of furniture. All money made from the sale of furniture goes straight back into funding SCT’s charitable work.

Stepping into Restoration Station is like stepping into a 20th century Aladdin’s Cave: antique furniture – chairs, tables, wardrobes, sideboards, you name it – fill much of the workshop, while tools, ceramics and toys fill the spaces in between. Restoration Station also operates a commissioning service: many pieces restored in the workshop can already be found in restaurants and shops in and around Shoreditch. 

In late-April, Restoration Station announced that it would be extending its opening hours by one day every week. With a shiny new team of volunteers, many of which are members of Zetteler, Restoration Station is now able to open its shop doors on Sundays between 10.30am — 2.30pm, as well as Thursdays 12.30pm — 8pm and Fridays 9.30am – 5pm. 

Several months after Restoration Station launched its new opening hours, Zetteler caught up Spitalfields Crypt Trust Interim Recovery Hub Manager Sheona Alexander. In the interview published below Sheona reports on how the new opening hours are allowing the workshop to gain wider recognition and generate more sales, as well as the pieces she’s had her eye on. 

Restoration Station is now open on Sundays. Have the new hours been well received? 
Yes, definitely. The Zetteler team has been amazing! Opening on a Sunday means that the locals are getting to know what we do, and the increased demand is keeping the programme’s participants on their toes! 

What do your volunteers bring to the table? 
We have a dedicated bunch of volunteers who have great skills. Their tasks include driving the van, sorting out online enquiries, arranging drop-offs, and then of course there’s those who do the restoration work and create the finished products. Without our volunteers we wouldn’t exist, they are the essential part of why we do what we do. To watch our volunteers blossom and grow is just as important, if not more so, than selling our furniture. 
Much of the vintage furniture you restore is donated. What is the process for donating a piece of furniture? 
Normally people send in a photo of the piece of furniture that they want to donate and then Ali, one of our volunteers, will arrange for it to be picked up. If people live locally, and they know that it is a lovely piece, they will also often just pop by with it and we gladly take it off their hands. I love to hear a bit of the history behind a piece of furniture, there are so many stories that a piece of furniture can tell. 

There are a lot of covetable pieces in the shop. Are there any pieces that you regret not taking home?
There was this gorgeous chair with dark green wool covering – I wish I had the space for it. There was also a little ‘60s foot stool which you can store things inside. Actually, I think we still have that. I might just have to buy that one! It’s terrible, my place is full of furniture from Restoration Station. I need to stop! 

You have a great location in Shoreditch. The workshop is a stone’s throw from House of Hackney and the Ace Hotel, which are two bastions of east-London cool. How does your approach to design compare? 
They have both gone for bold yet classic looks, which I like to think we incorporate into our designs. I hope we will bring in a bit more colour soon. 

Restoration Station’s workshop has taken on commercial commissions in the local area. Do you have any particularly interesting projects coming up? 
We are just starting to give quotes for some work on a new Italian restaurant, we did one before and it still looks great so I hope we can make this place look even more amazing. 

Your initiative focuses on the restorative power of engaging with creative work. Which part of this process has been the most constructive, for you and your participants? 
Addiction often takes you to a place of hiding, shame and isolation. Creativity taps into an aspect of ourselves where these things can no longer be covered up. You can’t have shame over a beautiful piece of furniture you’ve just restored, nor hide it or feel the need to cover up. I think we are all born creative. Creativity it is an integral part of being human, we just express it in very different ways. 

What’s next for Restoration Station?
We are hoping to have some building work done.  We will have a door put in which everyone will be happy about as it can get really cold in there during winter. We are also extending the space and having a special area for sanding with extractor fans, which will give us more space to display our work. We are just fundraising for the building work but hopefully after the summer we can start work on it. 

Follow Restoration Station on Instagram to keep up to date with their latest news.

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