A COMPANY which offers people with disabilities the chance to gain practical paid work experience while protecting the environment has been launched.

The Woodpile Company is the brainchild of Karen Stubbings, who after 13 years working for the national charity Shaw Trust decided to pursue self employment as a way of helping people who struggled to find secure work.

The business, which has been set up as a Community Interest Company, collects wood which is otherwise destined for landfill and sells or reconditions it, either for furniture or firewood, and buys and upcycles old furniture bought from local charities.

The work is carried out by volunteers or clients with disabilities in need of support into employment, including Mark Pearce, who is employed by The Woodpile Company two days per week.

Mrs Stubbings, said: "My son Daniel has a disability so working with people in a similar position to him has always been my passion. And I have always had an interest in the environment and what we can all do to protect it.

"So when I took voluntary redundancy, I began looking into combining the two and developing a model which could offer people with disabilities employment and work experience opportunities while at the same time taking wood which would otherwise end up at landfill sites and finding an alternative use for it.

"I was really fortunate that I got a lot of support from East Durham Business Service, who worked with me to develop my business plan and accounts."

Joe Greener from East Durham Business Service, said: "It's very admirable what Karen is doing; her business, a Community Interest Company, will not only help people with disabilities by offering them paid and work experience placements but is also helping the environment by recycling wood which is no longer wanted.

"She is so passionate and determined to make it work and I wish her every success for the future."

The Woodpile Company is based at a 2,500 sq ft unit at Dragonville Industrial Estate in Durham and counts businesses across the North East among its clients, including Bussey and Armstrong, Gentoo, Barratt Homes and Bett Homes.

Mrs Stubbings, 51, who lives in Fishburn with her husband, added: "As well as the paid and volunteer placements we offer, we also work with people to develop their CVs and help them find work. And now I am in talks with New College Durham to offer a variety of courses in areas including joinery and warehousing which will be fantastic for us as it adds another string to our bow.

"We also want potential customers to know we're here and have a furniture shop within the unit where we sell the reconditioned items we've bought and done up.

"I really believe in this business and what it stands for; I know better than anyone that there's a real need for something like this, which helps disabled people learn the skills they need to go on to find work, if not with us then with other companies in the area."

The Woodpile Company works with people of all ages and is due to take on four additional volunteers in the next few weeks.