A JOINER who has made furniture for some of the world's most exclusive designers has started his own business with support from an employability project.

Chris Francis has set up Blackrose Furniture Restoration, in Spennymoor, which produces new commissions and restores old furniture.

The 60-year-old, who is now involved in the restoration of historic pieces at Auckland Castle, said he would have struggled to get back into work after being made redundant had he not been supported through the Employability Skills and Discretionary Fund.

After a previous career as an engineer, Mr Francis 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 and starting work with a specialist furniture manufacturer, he was made redundant when the firm shut down.

Despite his knowledge and skills, Mr Francis needed to update his professional accreditations in order to get a new job was could not afford to.

Staff at Jobcentre Plus in Spennymoor told him about the Fund, which pays for training to give local unemployed people the skills and qualifications they need to apply for certain jobs.

The National Careers Service helped him secure a grant from the scheme, which is managed by Bishop Auckland College and funded by Spennymoor Area Action Partnership (AAP).

Mr Francis 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 chair for The Auckland Project and recently made a bespoke dining set for a client in Tudhoe.

Since the project was launched in January 2015, 35 people have received support for training from forklift truck driving to paediatric first aid and 19 secured jobs.

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.

For details of the scheme contact Denise Hopps, at Bishop Auckland College, at denise.hopps@bacoll.ac.uk or on 01388-443078.