A specialist joiner and furniture restoration expert has launched a new business, with support from a County Durham employability project.

Chris Francis has set up Spennymoor-based Blackrose Furniture Restoration, which works on new commissions as well as restoring old furniture.

After a previous career as an engineer, Chris has spent 15 years working as a cabinet maker and furniture upholsterer. Employed by the well-known firm Litton Furniture in Dorset, he produced bespoke furniture on behalf of Sir Terence Conran, Burberry, Jens Risom and the International Olympic Committee.

But in 2016, after moving back to the North-East for family reasons to work for another specialist furniture manufacturer, he was made redundant when the firm closed down.

Despite his knowledge and skills, Chris needed an up to date Construction Skills Certification Scheme card and Client Contractor National Safety Group Safety Passport in order to gain new employment.

Unable to afford the vital accreditation, he was told by staff at Jobcentre Plus in Spennymoor about the Employability Skills and Discretionary Fund, which pays for training to give local unemployed people the skills and qualifications they need to apply for certain jobs in various sectors. The National Careers Service helped him to complete his successful funding application.

Bishop Auckland College manages the project, which is funded by Spennymoor Area Action Partnership (AAP).

Chris, 60, has now secured work with The Auckland Project and said: “If it hadn’t been for the college helping me getting the industry cards I needed, I would never have started working with Auckland Castle.”

He is currently restoring what is believed to be a late 18th century Thomas Sheraton-designed drawing room chair for The Auckland Project, and recently completed a bespoke dining table and chairs set for a client in Tudhoe.

Chris added: “I’m getting more really nice commissions coming in, and outgrowing my workshop already so may need to get new premises soon. I wish I had done this years ago.”

Since the project was launched in January 2015, 35 people have received support and of these 19 have already secured jobs.

The successful training placements have included a forklift truck course which led to a warehouse operative position, various courses which resulted in the successful appointment of a groundskeeper, and paediatric first aid training for a self-employed childminder.

Another beneficiary obtained the personal training qualification required to work in a gym, while others include certificates for professional driving, site management training, and lifesaving training for leisure centre work.

Elaine Laurie, Skills in the Community Manager at Bishop Auckland College, said: “This is another welcome success story for the Partnership; more than half of the clients we have supported since the project was launched have already secured employment. We are delighted for Chris, who is highly skilled and has a clear passion for his work.

“We would urge anyone who is unemployed and living within the Spennymoor AAP area to contact us to access free training and other support.”

The Spennymoor AAP area also includes Tudhoe, Sunderland Bridge, Kirk Merrington, Byers Green, Croxdale, Hett and Middlestone Moor.

To find out more about the free training available, contact Denise Hopps, Project Officer, Bishop Auckland College, at denise.hopps@bacoll.ac.uk or on (01388) 443078 ext-3502.