How would you change the world for the better? Lee Fletcher and Terence Woodside of the Toronto industrial design firm Fig40 decided it should be one Allen key at a time.
The pair started with conceptualizing a simple-yet-durable chair for the city’s homeless shelters — a style that would look good, feel comfortable, be easy to clean and stack and, most important, last far longer than the less-than-a-year lifespan of regular institutional seats. Affordability was an important factor too.
Thus was born the Community Chair, coupling an 11mm-thick shell made from moulded plywood and clear-coated beech veneer with a frame of powder-coated, 3/4″-diameter steel tubing. With an Allen key in hand, anybody can assemble the chair in a matter of minutes.
And that’s more to the point. The chairs have been designed to be put together by teams of homeless people from Street Soccer Canada (streetsoccercanada.org), a non-profit that organizes friendly community games, peer mentorship and employment opportunities. Every Community Chair purchased is built, packed and shipped by SSC participants.
“When you’re in a shelter, you figure no one will ever hire you,” says Steve McGrath, mentor and logistics liaison with Street Soccer Canada. “Even a little bit of work can be both a stepping-stone and a great encouragement. Sometimes, all it takes to get the ball rolling for those in dire circumstances is the encouragement to embrace the opportunity to do something positive.” Community’s pilot run of a dozen chairs went to Toronto’s Salvation Army Gateway drop-in centre. According to one of the program’s participants: “The chairs are really comfortable. They’re designed so that your posture is good, yet it feels nice to sit in them for a long time. They feel really solid and they look sharp, too.”
There is, of course, a life beyond for these seats in a variety of settings, from institutions and companies to individual users. Purchasers will be helping change the world for the better even more, since for every five Community Chairs ordered at communityforopportunity.org , one will be donated to a local drop-in centre.
Fig40’s social enterprise is not only laudable in intent, it provides a real win-win for all concerned. Shelters get free, aesthetically pleasing chairs to relax in, and the homeless who use them can take pride in their creation. As Lee Fletcher puts it: “Community is designed to be more than just a chair. It offers people who are homeless a seat at the table.”
Photos by Jim Royce.