About Us

Edinburgh Tool Library

Where it started

About Us 1

The inspiration for the Library came when our founder, Chris Hellawell, visited a similar project in Toronto and witnessed first-hand the positive and transformative social and environmental impacts a Tool Library can have on a community.

Since achieving charitable status in 2014, we have built our inventory from entirely donated tools. We opened our doors to the public on 7 March 2015, becoming the first Tool Library in the UK.

From our first home, the former police box on Leith Walk, we have grown to include further sites across Edinburgh, including workshop spaces in both Leith and Portobello.

Excitingly, we’ve also gone mobile with our new zero emissions vehicle (which we’ve amusingly christened Eddy Van Haulin’). All of this means we can reach and help even more people, bringing communities, tools, and skills together to do more good work across Edinburgh.

We don’t know what the future holds, but we’re certainly tooling up for it.

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Our goal is for the Edinburgh Tool Library to be at the forefront of the sharing revolution.

We will do this by:

  • Becoming a cornerstone of society, extending the influence and reach of our community sites in Leith and Portobello to include the whole of Edinburgh.
  • Using our knowledge and experience to work in partnership with other groups to establish tool sharing libraries in villages, towns and cities across the UK.
  • Increasing the opportunities available for young people to learn and grow, and supporting them in achieving their own goals and fulfilling their potential.
  • Providing our volunteers with meaningful and challenging opportunities to be the change they want to see in the world.
  • Making reuse, recycling, and repurposing the norm, and not the exception in our community.
  • Working with the business community to make our vision a reality and imparting the values of our work to as many people as possible.
  • Promoting the value of creativity, art, and trades to our members and collaborators. We believe that these skills should be a viable option for all young people, regardless of academic ability.

What we do

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The Tool Library makes more than 2,000 tools available, free of charge, to members and not-for-profit partners. We lend a huge range of hand and power tools, making costly equipment easily available and affordable for Edinburgh residents.

We also provide tools and resources specifically to help young people into employment through our Tools for Life programme. Tools for Life supports young people with barriers to work, pairing them with a mentor who they work with to learn valuable practical and life skills and to build confidence.

Through ETL Makes we are able to offer a bespoke service to customers who wish to commission our carpentry and building skills.

Our workshops in both Leith and Portobello are valuable community hubs, providing meeting points for everyone who wants to share skills, exchange knowledge, and learn in a supportive and friendly environment.

The ETL team

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The Tooligans proud of their Volunteer Edinburgh Inspiring Team Award in 2018

The vast majority of the service delivery at ETL is done by our volunteers. They are the superstar Tooligans that run the tool lending sessions, deliver open workshops, and put in many hours on volunteer builds and community engagement. Our volunteers donate 75 hours in a typical week and when you add together all the volunteer builds and one-off events, our members donate over 4,000 hours a year to helping our members and the community.

We also have our amazing staff team to support our volunteers. ETL has five salaried staff working a variety of hours, supplemented by several freelancers who deliver particular projects.

Our Board of Trustees

Our board is made up of people with a shared enthusiasm and excitement for the Tool Library. We have worked hard to ensure it is diverse and representative of the communities we work with. Our board members have skills, experience, and backgrounds in trade unions, finance, youth employment, charity funding, employability, education, sociology and environmentalism.

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John Sinclair

Secretary and Acting Chair

I have been a trustee of the Edinburgh Tool Library since its formation back in 2014 and I’m immensely proud of what Chris and all the staff and volunteers have achieved since then. The breadth and impact of their work, and the panache and good humour that they deliver it with is a real inspiration.

My background is in photography, and currently I’m self-employed in Edinburgh shooting architecture, weddings and making videos for third sector organisations. In the fairly recent past I’ve also worked for the National Trust for Scotland and Prospect Trade Union, with a focus on photography and membership recruitment respectively.

Things that are definitely my bag: social justice; treating the planet and wildlife with respect; supporting new ideas which lessen and repair the damage we have already caused to our environment.

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Cathal Hone

Treasurer

I’m an Investment Manager at Aberdeen Standard Investments and have been helping out on the board at ETL for a couple of years now, after initially being a member and benefitting from the service myself.

I joined the board because I was keen to use my area of knowledge to benefit the charity, and think that ETL is ideally placed to support people from all walks of life to learn and benefit as I have, while still minimising their impact on the planet.

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Chris Hellawell

Trustee

I started ETL in 2015 after visiting similar projects in Canada and being frustrated that such a thing didn’t exist in the UK. I could see the potential of marrying an environmental angle with one that promotes positive social values and wanted to be part of something that made a lasting difference in my community.

My educational background is in environmental science and forestry, and professionally, I have worked in the third sector for the last decade, so the Tool Library has been a great way to use my knowledge and my passion to promote sharing as a way of social mobility as well as reducing environmental impact.

Since beginning the tool library, my interest in social enterprise has grown, and I was delighted to be asked to join the board of Firstport (Scotland’s largest provider of business support and funding to social enterprise) in 2018, and its sister company First Impact in 2019.

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Gillian Eunson

Trustee

I became a trustee of the ETL board in March 2019.

I’m currently a Knowledge and Learning Officer with the National Lottery Community Fund. Prior to this I built up over 10 years of experience working in and for the third sector; this began as a face-to-face fundraiser, before I got involved in various local and international volunteering grassroots community initiatives, and I more recently spent 5 years working in anti-racism education work for the charity Show Racism the Red Card. On top of that I’ve spent a lot of time working with young people, and am a qualified Forest School Leader – an approach to learning and development which takes place entirely in a woodland! I’ve a broad skillset in leadership, management, facilitation, and a knowledge of funding and national policy areas.

I’m passionate about looking after our planet and its people, and well know the power that can be harnessed within our communities. Having experienced this through my own career development, I now see it every day in my current work – great ideas turned into movements, connections, action and results – all brought together by the innovation and the drive that groups such as the Edinburgh Tool Library harness.

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Inge Panneels

Trustee

Inge is the newest member of our board, having joined in March 2020, just in time to enjoy remote meetings caused by the corona virus pandemic.

An artist and academic whose creative practice engages with space and place, Inge established her studio in Edinburgh in 1998 working extensively on public art projects across the UK and has exhibited internationally.

Her practice is informed by data collection, mapping, and digital making techniques developed over twelve years teaching at the Artists Designer Maker course at the University of Sunderland. This experience of the creative sector, and PhD research (AHRC) at Northumbria University into the creative mapping practices of artists, with a specific interest of how artists are charting climate change, informs her role as Research Fellow. 

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The board of trustees is elected each year at the AGM. We are always looking for new members who have experience in finance or legal matters, and can help with our plans for funding. Our board sits regularly and works to secure the long-term future of the Tool Library. If you are interested in joining our board, please get in touch.

The Edinburgh Tool Library is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO) registered as a charity by the Office of Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) with charity number SC045162.

Our funders

The Edinburgh Tool Library been fortunate enough to be supported by some great organisations and funding bodies. A big thank you to those who’ve supported us since 2014; we couldn’t have gotten this far without you.

  • Bank of Scotland
  • Sainsbury’s
  • Unltd
  • Climate Challenge Fund
  • The Big Lottery – Awards for All
  • OneCity Trust
  • Leith Chooses
  • EDI Group
  • Foundation Scotland
  • The Tudor Trust
  • Social Bite
  • Firstport
  • NESTA
  • The Volant Trust
  • University of Edinburgh Community Fund

Our friends

These are some of the friends of Edinburgh Tool Library. We receive ongoing support from each of them, for which we are extremely grateful.

If you want to be a friend of the Tool Library and play a key role in leading us towards a sharing economy in Scotland, please get in touch.

Chris’ story

Photo of Chris Hellawell

Chris Hellawell grew up in Northumberland, studied environmentalism and had previously worked in several Edinburgh charities. In 2013, when escaping the city for a holiday in Toronto, Chris found a new way of living – and working.

Whilst there he visited the Toronto Tool Library and met a young man who vividly demonstrated how something as simple as access to tools could make a fundamental difference to people facing the most challenging of times.

Before Toronto, Chris had understood the environmental case for tool sharing; on leaving, he understood the social transformations and human impacts made possible through the sharing of resources.

A Tale of Tool Cities

Vice

“When I popped into the Toronto Tool Library I met Ryan Dyment, one of the driving forces behind the project and I had a great afternoon. I learnt how everything worked, the challenges I could expect, and picked up invaluable advice. Ryan was open and honest with me but what stuck with me most was an encounter with another visitor, a young man called Philippe.”

“Philippe 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 would have been in a similar position.”

A Roofer without any Tools

Anna at the Library

To his credit, Philippe had gotten himself a job as a roofer and was due to start the following Monday. What he didn’t have was tools or money. And to do the job he needed to find a hammer, Stanley knife, and tool belt.

Ryan ran through the set up at the Library with Philippe and let him borrow what he needed, setting him up as a temporary member. This meant Philippe was able to earn a wage packet, and in turn he then became a full member of the Library. The difference this made to him was huge – in an instant his whole life was transformed and he wasn’t far from tears.

These are tools that change lives

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The idea for Edinburgh Tool Library was born.

Chris returned from Toronto determined to start Edinburgh’s own Library. “Giving people access to equipment means handing them the potential to better their environment and potentially their lives. That could be as simple as putting up a shelf or hanging some pictures, or as life-changing as giving someone the chance of holding down a job. I just knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

“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 the 14th of October 2014, we were given charitable status.

We built up our tool inventory through donations from individuals, organisations and charities and ramped up public interest in the idea. Then, on the 7th of March 2015, the UK’s first tool library opened in an old police box on Leith Walk.

It’s been an adventure so far, but what lies ahead is more exciting. There are more people who can benefit, and a bigger change we can make to the communities we live in.”