An ambitious and exciting new project to upskill young adults with autism, reduce waste to landfill and produce refurbished goods at affordable prices is being launched by autism support charity Daisy Chain.

A recent UK survey* showed 22m pieces of furniture are thrown out every year in the UK with 9m tons going into landfill.

Now thanks to a grant from Mercers’ Charitable Foundation, the charity has been able to set up an innovative upcycling project which will involve working with adults with autism to upcycle furniture, clothes and other items donated to the charity’s large Superstore that may not be suitable for immediate sale on the shop floor.

The charity’s popular Superstore on Portrack Lane in Stockton receives around 300 bags of donations each week as well as around 30 van collections of furniture and larger items. A range of upcycled items will be available for sale at the Superstore on Portrack Lane from Thursday 13 February.

Daisy Chain has a number of priorities including a desire to protect the environment by reducing waste, to work with adults with autism and move them closer to volunteer and employment opportunities, provide the community with good quality items at affordable prices and raise funds to support all the services the charity provides to families affected by autism across the Tees Valley.

The grant of just under £90,000 from Mercers Charitable Foundation will fund the two-year upcycling project which will be led by Rhys Baker, a former art, design and photography teacher who will lead on the wood and metal work upcycling and Kayleigh Capilla, an interior design graduate who has run her own craft business producing handmade personalised gifts. Kayleigh will be upcyclng soft furnishings and clothes.

The Charity Retail Association’s recent estimate was that members re-use or recycle 373,000 tons of clothing every year and with furniture being reclaimed and resold, the charity sector is making a significant contribution to reducing waste already.

However, Daisy Chain wants to ensure that it makes an even bigger difference – not simply in reducing waste but enriching the lives of adults with autism who will benefit from learning new skills.

It is estimated that a minimum of 16 adults will be able to access the project and learn new practical skills in trade and crafts associated with upcycling furniture, clothes, soft furnishings and other items.

Daisy Chain is also appealing for volunteers skilled in practical crafts to come forward and work alongside the young adults to impart their skills and knowledge to some of the most vulnerable members of the community who struggle to find meaningful and paid employment.

Matt Roche, Grant Programme Manager, The Mercers’ Company said: ‘The Mercers’ Charitable Foundation is absolutely delighted to be supporting this exciting project. Daisy Chain is a real part of the local community and this initiative will provide support towards meaningful employment for those who would otherwise find this extremely challenging. It is great that the project will have a positive impact on the environment and can be financially sustainable.

‘Through our Church and Communities Programme, we aim to nurture aspirations and invest in opportunities to create positive change so that everyone has the potential to lead a fulfilling life.’

Neeraj Sharma, Daisy Chain chief executive, said, ‘It is vitally important that we discover innovative avenues to support young adults on the autistic spectrum who are at risk of chronic loneliness and isolation when they have no access to meaningful employment. We are extremely grateful to the Mercers’ Charitable Foundation for funding this project which is both highly practical and multi-faceted, allowing us to upskill young adults while also reducing waste and producing unique sought-after items for sale.

‘It also gives our students a real purpose in helping to prevent waste and care for the environment.’

Furniture and items for upcycling will be chosen from Daisy Chain’s charity Superstore and warehouse and then work on them will take place at the new repair shop at the charity’s Norton farm.

Rhys Baker

Rhys has spent almost 20 years as a teacher including nine years as head of art, design and photography at Trinity Catholic College in Middlesbrough and positions at Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College in Darlington and Newcastle College teaching degree level photography.

He developed an interest in working with pupils with special educational needs and using art as therapy. Describing himself as ‘always a maker and doer’, Rhys is committed to sustainability and believes that this project will put students at the heart of the learning.

Kayleigh Capilla

Kayleigh graduated with an interior design degree from Teesside University before running her own craft business, Paper and String. Kayleigh specialised in handmade personalised gifts and attended craft fairs across the region with her creations. She is excited to be starting the Upcycling Project at Daisy Chain and working with students and volunteers to come up with some stunning showpieces.


If anyone would like to volunteer with the project, please contact Daisy Chain on 01642 531248 and ask to speak to the Volunteering Team, or email

February 2020


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