Edinburgh Tool Library

UK's first tool library 
empowering new workforce

Chris Hellawell is empowering the unemployed to go to-ol infinity and beyond with his unique Edinburgh Tool Library charity.

The story of the Edinburgh Tool Library began in the summer of 2013, when I was talking to a friend from Canada. She told me about the Toronto Tool Library (TTL), which lent out DIY equipment to members in the same way a traditional library lends out books. I thought this was a great idea and started looking into it only to find there was nothing like it in the UK.

I used to live in Toronto and was going back to visit friends the following October so I arranged to pop in to TTL to meet Ryan Dyment, who was one of the driving forces behind the project. I had a great afternoon, learning about how everything worked, the challenges I could expect, and picking up all sorts of advice. Ryan was a goldmine of info, but what I was really struck by on my visit was an encounter with another visitor.

A young man, let's call him Phil, came in. Phil was having a tough time of it. He was homeless, living on friends’ sofas, and skint. He was probably around the same age as me and I guess I could see something of myself in him. Maybe if I zigged instead of zagging at some point, I could be in a similar position as him.

To his credit, Phil had gotten himself a job as a roofer and was starting the following Monday. What he didn't have was tools or money, meaning he needed to get his hands on a hammer, Stanley knife and tool belt if he was going to be able to do the job.

Ryan let Phil borrow what he needed, telling him once he had earned a wage packed he could join as a member. The difference this made to him was huge and he wasn’t far from tears. What it showed me was how something as simple as a tool library can make a huge difference to a person.

Giving people access to equipment means handing them the potential to better their environment and potentially their lives. Whether that be clearing up your garden, putting up a few pictures or giving you a chance of holding down a job, they are all of benefit. Before I visited Toronto, I understood the environmental argument for sharing resources, on leaving, I understood the human argument.

My trip to the land of pucks, poutine and politeness had left me convinced that a tool library could work in the UK, so I set out establishing a board of trustees and applying for charitable status with the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR). This took longer than I had hoped, but after a long, drawn out battle, we managed to argue our case successfully and on 14 October 2014, we were given charitable status. We built up our tool inventory through donations from individuals, organisations and charities and did lots of media to ramp up public interest in the idea. On 7 March 2015, the UK's first tool library opened in an old police box on Leith Walk, Edinburgh.

Now over a year on we have moved to bigger premises and have a workshop where people can come in and learn how to use the tools they need to borrow.

We’re open to anyone and we have over 1500 tools available.

The next step for us is to open even bigger premises and provide opportunities for young unemployed people who are interested in working in the trades industry. We want to do this by providing support and mentorship in a workshop environment. Our young trainees will learn about tools, maintenance, cataloguing, customer service and will demonstrate tools to our members, under the supervision of retired trades people, or mentors.

It’s been an adventure so far, if you feel you want to be part of this, or want to help us achieve our goals, please get in touch.

You can email Chris at hello@edinburghtoollibrary.org.uk.

The above article first published on thirdforcenews.org.uk in May, 2016.