The end of October marks the end of our collaboration with Edinburgh Mask Makers, and we will be collecting in the collection boxes in Leith, Newington and Granton. It’s prompted me to reflect on the project, and think about the amazing things achieved in the darkest of times.
March 2020 saw The Edinburgh Tool Library turn 5 years old, and in that time we have seen how important it has been in changing the lives of so many people. Watching self-confidence blossom in young people, seeing the transformation we make with a community build, or hearing about a member’s home transformation. We had changed lives, but we had never saved lives.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, we started by shutting down our services early – we love sharing, but were very aware that Covid19 is not the sort of thing we wanted to be distributing throughout our community.
We delivered our workshop dust masks to the Gilmerton Care Home, who had no PPE. It felt wonderful to have helped, and we got a lovely thank you card in the post. But we wanted to do more, and didn’t know where to focus our efforts.
And then we found out about the Edinburgh Mask Makers (EMM)…
This group of community-minded people had self-organised through Facebook, and had a ready-made production line established where materials supplied (free) by the West End Tailors were sent out to sewers across the central belt, who would pledge a number of masks they would make by a certain date, and then return them either to a drop off box, or in the post. When ETL got involved it was initially because their drop off location had been broken into and all the masks stolen, so initially we offered to build some secure boxes for storage and collection. We found places to host the boxes, then set up a collection routine and used our Portobello workshop as a place to count and sort the masks, and where volunteer drivers could pick them up for redistribution. The EMM sent us a list twice a week of who was picking up what for which organisation, and we were in business!
What I really loved about the mask makers group is that it was a beautiful example of organic, grass roots community action. Here were a group of amazing people, who weren’t satisfied with just doing their bit by staying home, they wanted to help those people who had to go to work – because they were the very key workers that were on the front line. It was like watching the blossoming of a cottage industry, and because everyone was based at home, it meant volunteering was completely inclusive, and that people who might not be able to volunteer under normal circumstances got to enjoy the amazing buzz that it gives you.
Over the weeks and months, we met people from all across central Scotland who were doing amazing things to keep people safe. We had pickups from 86 different organisations, ranging from Turning Point to NHS Lothian, Empty Kitchens Full Hearts to the Red Cross. All in all 12,613 masks were made by the 1000+ members of the Edinburgh Mask Makers network, and distributed right across the country by a team of amazing volunteer drivers.
I want to take this opportunity to salute the amazing admins at EMM – Rosie, Magda, Dhouha and Martha, The Hunter Foundation for funding to help support the running of the project, the generous folks who lent or donated machines, our amazing ETL Tooligans who helped coordinate the distribution and of course the wonderful sewers of Edinburgh, who stepped up when they were needed, with fire in their bellies and sparks flying from their sewing machines.
Because of all of your hard work, time and sacrifice there are a lot of people who have not experienced first hand the horrors of Covid19.
Thank you all so much.