Our story

What we do

Our story 1

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. Since opening in 2016, we have saved our members over £1.3million by sharing instead of buying and reduced the carbon footprint of our membership by over 160tons.

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 Custom Lane 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.

Our goal

Our story 2

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.

Where it started

Our story 3

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 now pop-up venue 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.

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

“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.”

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.

Our story 4

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.”