A new way of working with thinkFound

Chris Barrett, founder of thinkFound.

Elizabeth Atkin chats to thinkFound’s Chris Barrett about his woodshop work experience initiative tucked away in E10’s Argyll Avenue Industrial Estate

When Echo supporter Cranston Watts got in touch to tell us about thinkFound – a local organisation making bespoke wooden furniture with a difference – I was immediately intrigued.

After months of at-home working and a Covid-compliant visit to the workshop (prior to the third national lockdown), Cranston came away with a “beautiful, well-finished” desk six days later.

He quickly made plans to purchase a table. But more than the product impressed. The company’s ethos did, too.

thinkFound was set up by Chris Barrett, a former photojournalist keen to make a difference in the community.

They make furniture from reclaimed wood, but it’s also a not-for-profit, meaning any money it makes from sales goes towards its raison d’être – providing on-the-job training to individuals often overlooked for such opportunities, upskilling them for their future careers.

“If I was going to start business, it had to have something a bit more than just making money,” Chris tells me over the phone.

He works with the trainees himself, teaching them the ins-and-outs of wood-working and craftsmanship. Notably, some trainees have learning difficulties – ADHD or dyslexia, he says – the latter of which he has personal experience of.

One of thinkFound’s bespoke wooden desks.

“I’m dyslexic, and I’ve had difficulties getting into work,” he explains. “And that’s one of the reasons for this as well. It’s how my brain works, how I can understand people.”

Add in the company’s focus on environmentalism – repurposing discarded wood, looking into recycled plastics – and Chris’s enterprise is tackling multiple issues at once.

“We’re trying to create this green product, and keep it mainstream, affordable for people. And then what we’re trying to do is find young people who don’t thrive in an environment of academia and take them on.

“But we’re not wrapping our trainees up in cotton wool. Saying, ‘alright, we can make crap’. We sell it – it’s got to be good. And that’s the incentive too, to get people to focus on it. It’s not about you, not about me, it’s about the products that we’ve got to make good together.”

Such an ambitious business model isn’t without its challenges. “Anyone running something like this – you’re on call all of the time, racing constantly to keep it afloat,” he adds.

Still, in a post-lockdown world, Chris hopes the business can become a social enterprise (CIC) and expand to have more workshops, providing opportu- nities for more people who need them across London.

“I want to scale it to be in areas like remanufacturing. I want a bigger space to help more young people, and other people, such as those who have suffered a brain injury. We could offer engagement programmes, to get them building maybe a chessboard – and bring that development into our work experience programme.”

Even with a slight, pandemic-related dip in sales, something tells me there’s nothing that could hold Chris back.

To find out more about thinkFound, visit their official website