One chair can change a life.

19 February 2018

Homelessness, joblessness and criminal reoffending, are not words you immediately connect with the

American Rental Sector. It may come as a surprise then, that for nearly two decades, American rental companies have been a major driver of social change in these areas.

This is not about a large company throwing money in the direction of never-ending needs. It’s about giving people a fresh start by walking next to them and equipping them with the life skills that they were never given. It’s about getting them jobs and homes and a social worker to help them transition from life in prison back into a functioning community. And each time a rental company purchases a chair or table from Alloyfold, the profits go towards helping people make that kind of fresh start. That’s because Alloyfold is more than a business selling chairs; it’s a social enterprise wholly owned by Pathway Charitable Trust. And Alloyfold was formed for the purpose of providing profits for Pathway, so together they can change lives.

And they are changing lives. They change the lives of people with nowhere to go, by providing them with safe rental accommodation or a place at a retreat facility. They change the lives of men leaving prison by helping them to find employment either in the community or in a Pathway owned labour-for-hire business. And they change the lives of these men and their families as they reintegrate back into life outside prison by providing them with intensive social work support. The statistics show a difference. For example, men supported by the reintegration service are 43% less likely to return to prison than those who are not supported. And 62% of people who started jobs through Pathway schemes are still employed after 6 months. It doesn’t take an anthropologist to note the immense flow-on benefits to the wider community. And these only occur because of Alloyfold’s profits, largely contributed to by the American Rental Sector.

“Social enterprise is a bit of a buzzword now, but 20 years ago when we were starting out it was virtually unheard of,” says Alloyfold co-founder and CEO Murray Kennedy.  “It all began when we designed and engineered what is now our signature aluminum folding chair. Its benefits were huge, it had a rental life far exceeding anything else on the market plus a lightweight frame (30% lighter) that didn’t rust or scratch. However, a good product is not always enough. We needed to communicate why a chair costing almost double the price of a steel chair would bring a long term return on investment, and how it would help a large number of vulnerable people,” says Kennedy. “That was a major challenge.”

It was three years later, during its first foray into the American Rental Show, that Alloyfold finally broke ground. “Our early American rental customers became like partners to us. The US has always been known as the land of opportunity and these customers embraced not only our product but also our story. They understood the heart of our business and then they gave us constructive feedback to develop our products even further. Seventeen years later, many of these customers are still with us and many are still using their original Alloyfold chairs,” says Kennedy.

One person who has recently benefited from the support of Alloyfold customers is Joseph*. Joseph* was born in a small, rural town. He is the nephew of a major gang head, and from the moment he opened his eyes he was surrounded by violence, alcohol and drugs. He spent his youth in and out of correctional facilities. Eventually, at age 29, he committed a major violent crime and was sent to jail for more than a decade. While in jail he decided that he wanted to change his life.

“I went to my first parole board one day, and they turned me down. I went to my second board and they turned me down. After that I thought ‘man I want to go home. I don’t want to be here no more.’ So this thing in my head went ‘I’ve had enough.’ The hardest thing when I tried to change things in my life was that if I did anything to anyone I decided I had to go back and apologise to them. And it was hard. That’s where it all started; by manning up to things, taking responsibility for what I was doing. The day I left prison I felt anxious. Every other time I have gotten out, no-one’s been there. But Francis, (a Pathway social worker) was there this time. It was like, yeah this is for real, I’ve got someone who will help me in a way that no-one has before. When I left he had these things in place for me to do. I went to my job first and said ‘I’ll see you guys on Monday.’ I bought some linen, paid my rent and bond and stuff.  Francis and I have weekly contact now. He has taught me a lot about support. When I have a hard time, I get in touch with him. I come in and we’ll sit down and I’ll share about what’s going on in my life, he gives me advice, and then we’ll make a plan. We’ll put things in place so when things are happening I know what I can do. It’s achievable. I think it’s made a lot of difference. The main thing that I really like about life now is that I’m having that time with my grandson. I can be a grandad. It brings out that soft person in me. My family enjoys that because they see the real expression of me, not the person who had been hardened. I wasn’t that father figure, I wanted to do what I wanted and I was just lost. Now I can tell my kids I love them, I can give them a hug. I want to do the best I can, be the best person I can be. Without the support of Pathway I wouldn’t be here today. I would be locked up. If I did not have Pathway, I would be back into my old stuff with my homies. Pathway gave me responsibility to look after myself.”

Alloyfold has a simple objective, to sell great furniture which will provide Pathway Trust with the means to offer people like Joseph* a fresh start. Over the years its range has grown to include a large selection of quality rental chairs along with other complementary commercial furniture.

Alloyfold would like to say thank you to all of its customers who continue to help them change lives; one chair at a time.

*Name has been changed.