Don't dump your clutter - upcycle it with these tips from Suffolk experts

Upcycling has become one of the most sustainable ways to decorate your home in recent years

Upcycling has become one of the most sustainable ways to decorate your home in recent years - Credit: Mandy Muhs/Emmaus Suffolk

As lockdown saw people confined to their homes for well over a year, the extended period indoors gave many the chance to sort through their homes and get rid of any clutter that had overstayed its welcome. 

From decluttering old clothes, to redecorating rooms, many have been busy organising and making way for new beginnings...which is great.

But there is a darker side to the nation's DIY and decorating frenzy. With charity shops having been closed until recently, there have been reports nationwide of increases in belongings being illegally dumped by roadsides or along normally picturesque country lanes

According to figures from East Suffolk Council, flytipping almost doubled during the third quarter of 2020, with 600 reports in that period,  compared to 350 from the same quarter in 2019.  

“Like most areas of the UK, we are hugely disappointed that Suffolk has sadly seen an increase in flytipping during lockdown,” explains Suffolk Waste Partnership manager Rob Cole.  

“This illegal, selfish behaviour is not only a blight on our environment but it also costs local taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds every year to clear up.” 

With flytipping not only an eyesore but also a danger and expense to the local environment, what is the responsible alternative when it comes to dealing with your unwanted furniture and household goods? 

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Upcycling could prove to be the solution. 

Upcycling refers to the process of transforming an old piece of furniture and giving it a new lease of life. It can not only save you money in the long run, but can also help the environment by reducing the amount of goods that end up in landfills.  

The Barn Co

Avid upcycler Tony Knights of The Barn Co - Credit: Richard Ginger

One Suffolk man who fully understands the joys and importance of upcycling is Tony Knights.  

Owner of The Barn Co in Saxmundham, Tony has been running his shop for just over six years, and has been upcycling for a decade.   

Using an assortment of reclaimed materials, Tony is king of sustainability, and over the years has saved tonnes of goods and scrap from ending up in landfills by giving them a new purpose – producing some fascinating results.  

“I take materials from a lot of builders, and rather than them having a skip, they give me their old wood. I probably use 400 scaffold boards a month across different projects,” he explains.  

“Whenever people have doors or door joists, I use those, and old windows too. I’ve got around 50 doors that people have gotten rid of. People have also been getting in touch with us through lockdown, to see if we want their unwanted items. If anything, we probably accept too much!” 

But with an abundance of donations and materials at his disposal, Tony expertly crafts and upcycles these into an array of functional goods and furniture – from firepits and sheds, to tables and chairs.  

“People enjoy what I do – they'd rather I build them something for their house out of recycled materials as it not only gives them something unique, but they like the idea of it not going to waste.” 

For anyone who is keen to try upcycling themselves, Tony has a number of key tips to help you get started.  

“Use whatever you can find - whether that’s around the home or the garden. Go on Pinterest and Instagram to see what can be done, and just go for it. And don’t be afraid to paint anything in loud colours.” 

Some of the best paints to use when upcycling include chalk paint and spray paint. A primer is also recommended before painting anything made from wood. 

“A sander is probably the most important tool you can have when upcycling. It’s probably my most used tool, as you can sand furniture back to its natural wood before painting or varnishing it.” 

For anyone looking to try their hand at upcycling while feeding their altruistic side, there are a handful of charities across the region that have incorporated crafting within their initiatives.  

Emmaus is a charity that works closely with those who are vulnerable, socially isolated and at risk of homelessness across the county – and one of the ways in which it looks to tackle these issues is through the art of upcycling.  

“Everyone recognises the benefit of doing something creative with their hands,” explains Claire Staddon, chief executive of Emmaus Suffolk. “Upcycling also stops us having to throw things away for them to end up in a landfill.” 

Volunteers and workshop attendees at Emmaus

Volunteers and workshop attendees at Emmaus - Credit: Mandy Muhs/Emmaus Suffolk

Offering upcycling workshops at its Dale Road site since 2018, Emmaus brings together companions, staff and volunteers to restore furniture that may have been neglected. 

The charity then sells these revamped items - the proceeds of which go directly back into the charity. “Not only do we work with our own volunteers, we work alongside other groups too, such as Gyros - a charity that helps with refugee and asylum seekers.” 

But following the popularity in upcycling, Emmaus Suffolk soon found itself having to expand to another site following the demand in the number of people wishing to learn how-to. 

“We then opened the workshop for our volunteers at the Sailmakers - which is adjacent to our retail shop – but that became so popular that we had people asking if they could pay to participate, which we did around Christmas 2019.” 

Upcycling saves tonnes of goods from ending up in landfills 

Upcycling saves tonnes of goods from ending up in landfills - Credit: Mandy Muhs/Emmaus Suffolk

However, lockdown followed shortly after – leaving a number of eager crafters at a loose end. “Unfortunately, we checked with the council and donating furniture during lockdown would’ve been classed as an unnecessary journey, so what we did was put our craft sessions online.  

“My workshop coordinator looked at how people can do creative upcycling projects from everyday objects that otherwise would have been thrown away.” 

According to its most recent figures, Emmaus saved more than 12,000 tonnes of goods from going to landfills between 2017 and 2018. 

The charity’s Youtube channel features an assortment of videos, showing intrepid crafters how to create a range of goods from the comfort of their homes – including plant pots, photo frames and bird feeders. 

“We started working directly with those who were vulnerable, but through Covid, we’ve had more people struggling with social isolation. But there is definitely a massive change in people’s mental health just by being creative and doing something physically with their hands. And having a quality end product they can see and admire is a huge bonus. We’re recognising this more and more, with people coming from all walks of life.” 

But with lockdown restrictions easing over the coming weeks, people will soon be able to squash that social isolation, as well as fix up an old bit of furniture at one of the charity’s upcoming upcycling workshops.  

“We want to embrace as many people as we can. Both of our hubs are open, and we’re hoping to open our third one in the next three months,” adds Claire. “People can come volunteer with us, or they can join our paid for service at the end of May.” 

A table being given a new lease of life through upcycling

A table being given a new lease of life through upcycling - Credit: Mandy Muhs/Emmaus Suffolk

Alternatively, Claire and the team are taking donations once again from anyone looking to donate any old furniture they may have. 

“Small items you can easily carry are brilliant – so small chest of drawers, bedside tables, mirrors. We’re recognising that people are refreshing and rethinking their homes as they’re spending more time in them, so we’d like to encourage people to make as many ethical purchases as they can. But please ring us first, to make sure we have the capacity for it. 

“We also take requests and can upcycle furniture for people, for a small fee. 

Emmaus’ upcycling workshops are open for volunteers every Tuesday and Thursday. Alternatively, its public craft workshops will commence on Wednesdays from the end of May.  

To find out more, visit Emmaus' Suffolk website

Have you upcycled anything in lockdown that you’re keen to show off? Email your before and after photos to