Monday 20 May 2019

Ballymun's Rediscovery Centre: Where you can buy recycled pain for a total bargain

Gerard Griffin (59) is a project manager and furniture restorer in the Rediscovery Centre. He lives in Oldtown, north Co Dublin, with his wife, Deirdre. They have two children - Siobhan (26) and Daragh (24). Here, he's in conversation with Ciara Dwyer

Gerard Griffin (59) is a project manager and furniture restorer in the Rediscovery Centre, Ballymun
Gerard Griffin (59) is a project manager and furniture restorer in the Rediscovery Centre, Ballymun

I get up at 7am and do a few stretches. All this began in 2013, when I met a guy, Paul Callan, here in the Rediscovery Centre where I work. He's a runner, and he started me on the running path. I decided to have a change of direction, life-wise. Since then, I've lost two-and-a-half stone, and I've done seven marathons. I like the physical end of running, but also, I have more appreciation for life.

I live with my wife, Deirdre - she's retired - and our son, Daragh. Our daughter, Siobhan, is a teacher, and she has moved out. For breakfast, I have porridge and fruit. I live in the village of Oldtown. I've lived there all my life. It's a lovely commute through the lanes of north Co Dublin into Ballymun. There is no traffic. I'm in the Rediscovery Centre for 9am. It has been in existence since 2006, and I've been here since 2010.

I start the day with a cup of tea. We have a community employment scheme for people who are long-term unemployed, varying in age groups from late teens up to people in their late 50s, and I also teach evening classes to the public. I train people in furniture repair, restoration, upcycling and upholstery. In the workshop, I allocate tasks. It's a hands-on experience. I teach furniture preparation, sanding, stripping and removing old paint surfaces, and then refinishing the item with either paint or varnish, or French polish. Then we put the items up for sale.

All the furniture is donated by people who want to move an item on. Rather than send it to landfill, they give us a ring, and we will go out to their house and collect the item. We take a huge variety of items, but we ask people to send us photographs so that it's not a wasted journey. At the end of the day, we have to be able to sell it.

In the workshop, it's all hand-based, and the only machines are hand-operated tools. There are no big saws or dangerous pieces of equipment. There is great satisfaction when you give a piece of furniture a new lease of life.

Years ago, stuff was made to last. It's great to see this sturdy furniture being upcycled with paint, or restored by sanding and polishing. It's about the environment, too - learning to reuse things and get better use out of the Earth's resources, rather than promoting a throwaway industry, and a throwaway life.

People love getting stuck in and doing it themselves. You'd be amazed at what they can do with a bit of patience and encouragement. Not everybody has great patience, but enthusiasm will carry you through. We also do a repair service where the public can send in items, and I will teach other staff how to do the repairs. The course has been very successful, and two people have got jobs in the furniture-restoration business.

And we have a 'rediscover paint' scheme here, too. We collect water-based paint from the recycle centres and then we strain them, clean them, mix them and redistribute them back into the community. We have a club, and if you pay €30 membership fee, you can buy 50 litres of paint for €30. It ticks all the boxes, from recycling to reuse, to all the environmental issues. Otherwise, it costs a fortune to send the paint to Germany for incineration.

Over the years, there has been a running-down of trades. From a social perspective, a trade was looked down on. People thought that you weren't clever enough to go to university, and third-level was considered the better option.

Consequently, all the trades have almost disappeared. Try and get a young carpenter or a young bricklayer! All of that knowledge is being lost, unless people wake up and see that there is a need to have people working with their hands.

It's not just a practical or financial need, it's also psychological - human beings need to work with their hands. Sitting at a computer all day is not healthy. Modern offices don't seem conducive to proper human interaction. You walk into a place with 30 people working there, and it is silent.

I'm a cabinetmaker by title. After a four-year apprenticeship, I set up my own furniture-restoration business. I had it for 29 years, and then I came here. Working with wood was not the original plan. I'm a farmer's son, and I went to agricultural college to do dairy management and to be a dairy farmer.

As part of the course, we were taught woodwork. It was about making troughs for feeding cattle, and how to build sheds for sheep. It was only two hours a week, but I lived for it. I realised that I didn't want to be a farmer, but I wanted to be a carpenter instead. My poor father was very frustrated when I told him. But it went back to my childhood. I remember playing with mala by the fire, making little cowboy figures, and later, I would use a potato-paring knife and whittle totem poles out of pieces of wood.

After I finish work at 5pm, I go to the gym. At weekends, I run outdoors. When I get home, I have dinner and then I play the fiddle. I'm self-taught. I took it up at 18 because I wanted to impress girls. But I was the eejit entertaining, while the girls were up at the bar being chatted up by some other eejit. My music friends are also my fishing friends. I love getting out on a lake on a boat. It gives you a hugely different perspective on life and nature. There is something spiritual about it.

I head to bed early. I'm always exhausted after all my training. Too tired to dream, I sleep like a log.         

Gerard Griffin will be at house 2018. house 2018 is Ireland's only trend-led and style-focused interiors event, taking place in Dublin's RDS from May 25-27, showcasing world-class design and the cream of Irish interiors talent. Buy your tickets now here  . Under 12's go free

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