Choose Local: Chris Barrett, thinkFOUND

13 July 2020


Chris Barrett, thinkFOUND


Chris runs thinkFOUND, hand crafting beautiful furniture.

Can you tell me about when and why you started your business?

I set up thinkFOUND six years ago when I was struggling to scrape together a living from a career in photojournalism.  I had been abroad for a long time. The job took me from photoshoots in North Korea to reporting on dengue fever in Indonesia. I'd spent much of my early life turning my childhood habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, to being in the wrong place at the right time to take photos and build a career - but the rise of the camera phone made me rather redundant.

I haven’t been able to adapt to the literary world as I'm a full-time dyslexic of 30 something years. Dyslexia has been a huge part of my life and a massive issue in trying to get jobs and gain further education. In my youth, it made me quite angry and frustrated.

Ironically, a careers’ adviser once told me I’d be a furniture maker and here I am today. I've naturally been a visual, hands-on learner and throughout my life, I have always made things out of this and that, items I’ve found, hence the name thinkFOUND.

The idea first came about when I was assisting a friend on a photoshoot once and I was very interested in the props they had made, using these scaffolds to make tables.

I took a space in Leytonstone, run by Forest Road Recycling originally and moved here in February 2017. The aim of the enterprise is to make furniture from “found” objects or materials. We mainly work with reclaimed scaffold boards but are delving into recycled plastics and other found items such as cargo crates.

My work as a photojournalist was on social issues and that is something I’ve tried to bring into the DNA of thinkFOUND. We make items from reused materials and use eco friendly oil/waxes and other processes, making us environmentally conscious, but I’ve also found a great need to work with, support and develop young talent in my local area.

Before Covid, we were about to launch our thinkfoundation, which is a work experience programme for 16-24 years who have fallen out of the standard work and educational pathways. We are also a keen supporter of local businesses where we are currently repurposing; cleaning up, painting and treating some old church pews and donating them to local businesses who need social distancing furniture and are struggling financially.

What makes Waltham Forest so special?

It’s a brilliant place to be and a place I landed when coming back from abroad. My family used to live so far away. My grandparents lived in Muswell Hill and my Great Grandfather ran a metal works in Tottenham.

It might sound like a cliché, but I’ve always loved Waltham Forest’s associations with William Morris, who is a hero of mine. He’s definitely someone I aspire to, from his socialist politics to his conservationism and the passion for providing affordable furniture for people.

There’s great energy and such positivity in Waltham Forest.

What do you think makes your business stand out?

I never really wanted to be a businessman. I wanted to be involved with something that had a social purpose and just generate some income to create opportunities for people.

We take on kids who may have been expelled from school to give them an opportunity to test out in the workplace. The long-term plan is if we can give them the skills they need, we might be able to employ them in the future. We’ve helped six at-risk young people and we have plans to expand that outreach programme through the work experience programme I mentioned.

We have had to scale that back a bit recently, but it should be ramping up again soon. Giving people the chance to prove themselves and helping them grow is in the DNA of how the company will grow.

How do you give back to the community?

We are just about to start our desk giveaway plan, making flat pack desk kits for young people in need of a desk, to help them focus and have a place to study as more education goes online.

We'll be turning the desk giveaway into an e-learning programme of our own where young people can add to their desk - for instance, adding a shelf from additional timber we send and making a laptop or tablet stand from the cardboard packing.

We will then look to start our work experience programme in August/Sept. We have a referral form we can send to anyone interested between 16-24 years old who is out of work and struggling with education.

We don’t want it to just be about young people though. For instance, the foundation will offer opportunities for mothers wanting to get back into work and opportunities for ordinary people who want to get involved with something.

Young people are utterly screwed. Social mobility is at its worst. Hopefully we can help, if only a little bit.

What challenges has Covid-19 posed?

Forty per cent of our sales are to the hospitality industry, so lockdown hit us hard financially. We’ve had a lot fewer sales. We were just about to launch the foundation programme so we’ve had to push that back.

Has your business had to adapt because of Covid-19?

It has all really been about making desks, as we know so many people are working from home so they’re in demand. That’s been a big part of what we’ve been doing since lockdown. Denaro has not been that comfortable coming since the pandemic started, so it has just been me and my assistant Grant.

What are your plans to grow and sustain your business?

I’m confident in what we do because we’re affordable and people do come back because they like what we make hopefully.

We believe firmly in the Pay it Forward model, because by creating opportunities for people it benefits everyone.

We also intend to scale up operations, improve our reach and invest in new, green technologies.

What are the biggest challenges for the business in a post Covid-19 world?

Well, the biggest challenges will remain the overheads, the cost of rent. But as I say, people hopefully like what we do, so we’re confident in our future.

Why would you encourage people to shop local?

Now more than ever we have a real choice to use our money to facilitate a better way of living with services and brands that are anchored to a vested interest in creating more opportunities for local employment and a better way of living.

This can only be achieved through a conscious effort to shop locally, increasing the probability of an improved circular economy that increases local employment, reduces waste and pollution and inspires others to follow suit.

Why are local customers so important to you?

They are the lifeblood of our success. Word of mouth recommendations are the best form of accreditation and affirmation of not just our product but our purpose too - being green and being social.

Where is your favourite part of the borough to hang out?

I live near the marshes with a 10-month old. I like to take her to the lung of London to give her and myself some much needed breathing space in a green setting. We often take walks through the marshes and when I'm there it's nice to surface back up into the urban world via a local brewery (when they are open).

Where do you shop locally and where would you recommend?

I live around Lea Bridge road where I regularly use our local grocery store.

I also like to check out the new eating and drinking places popping up on our industrial estate (Argall) as well as making sure I wander down the main market street in Walthamstow.  It’s such a lively place of activity. I'm a huge fan of the International Supermarket.


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