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Member Spotlight: The Furniture Makers' Company

The Furniture Makers' Company updated us on how they have been responding to the Covid-19 crisis over the past six months.

The coronavirus pandemic has caused – and we hate to use what has now become a cliché – an unprecedented situation.

Long-running exhibitions have been deferred or cancelled for 2020, showrooms temporarily shuttered, and production brought momentarily to a standstill.

While many businesses saw operations completely drop off during the height of lockdown, The Furniture Makers’ Company, which is both the City of London livery company and charity for the furnishing industry, conversely was incredibly busy, supporting people working in the trade who have been financially impacted.

With many people in the sector immediately put on furlough, the charity was providing financial lifelines to those who had seen their earnings seriously depleted by awarding grants, called a Personal Support Grant, to those who applied.

Individuals and married couples can apply for a monthly grant of £200 or £250 for up to a maximum of four months, respectively. Meanwhile, sole traders can apply for a one-off grant of £500. In order to qualify for a Personal Support Grant, the applicant has to complete a short form and provide documentation to prove their recent employment history and association with the industry.

Jonny Westbrooke, CEO at The Furniture Makers’ Company, explains: “At the start of the lockdown we were awarding Personal Support Grants to people – both employed at a company and sole traders – to help mitigate against the loss of earnings they were experiencing as a result of being furloughed or unable to work.

“Anyone in furniture or furnishing can apply to us for a grant, you don’t have to be making it, you can be selling it, transporting it, and involved in any of the different associated trades. The grants that we are giving people aren’t huge, life-changing sums of money, but they’re not meant to be. They are designed to work as a bridge while the individual applies and waits for job seeker benefits to come through. What we want to do is relieve some of the inevitable stress and anxiety of the situation.”

The support that the organisation is providing people at this difficult time is very welcome, but some people may be surprised to learn that the charity has been supporting people from the furniture and furnishing industry since 1903.

In 2013 the charity, the Furnishing Industry Trust, formerly the Furnishing Trades Benevolent Association (FTBA), merged with the livery company, the Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers, to become one central organisation that could foster the industry through its output of Education, Excellence and Welfare.

When the crisis hit, though, a decision was quickly taken to freeze its educational activity so the charity could focus heavily on its welfare output and support those affected in a timely manner. To meet the heightened demand for Personal Support Grants, members of the Furniture Makers’ team were redeployed to the welfare department to increase capacity and make sure that the application process for a grant is quick.

While the UK has now emerged out from a national lockdown, with people slowly returning to work where possible, the looming shadow of a second wave remains. Furthermore, the gradual wind-down of the Job Retention Scheme, with employers having to assume more of the financial responsibility of furloughed employees in the forthcoming months, presents the risk of a wave of redundancies.

The charity is ready to cope with any surge in applications and can offer advice and communication materials to businesses that regrettably have to make any personnel cuts.

In the meantime, Jonny makes it very clear what anyone should do if they’re reading this and feel that they could benefit from a grant.

“Our message is simple: if you work in the furnishing industry in any function and you are struggling, we may be able to help you. You don’t have to be on the poverty line to receive support from us. We exist to help people before it hopefully gets to that stage. Our team are processing applications very quickly and we can get money in people’s accounts within a couple of days, provided we have all the information needed.”

 Find out more about The Furniture Makers' Company's support: