Retrofit & Tool Renovation: Meet ETL volunteer Richard Wright!

Meet Richard Wright – cherished volunteer at Edinburgh Tool Library’s Portobello branch, who is a tool sharpening guru and founder of the Retrofixers

Retrofit & Tool Renovation: Meet ETL volunteer Richard Wright! 1

Hello Richard! Tell us how you first got involved with Edinburgh Tool Library?

In summer 2018 Porty Tool Library had an opening event and I went along out of curiosity. The place was full of timber and other interesting stuff, and I met Chris Hellawell for the first time. He converted me in just a minute! Not only do I live only a 7-minute walk away, but I also discovered that ETL was perfect for someone with a lot of tools, limited space and no workshop as I could donate stuff and still use it! I never imagined volunteering when I joined, but I loved the workshops and the community spirit so much that it wasn’t long before I became a ‘Tooligan’. To start with I helped at open workshops as well as the library, but felt more suited to library shifts as there’s always something useful to do when not talking to visiting members.

Last year, you and some other ETL volunteers started the Retrofixers – can you tell us what that’s all about?

We are building a community of volunteers who want to learn, and help others make homes more energy efficient through DIY elements of Retrofit. We go to each other’s houses in groups of up to 5 or 6 to do draught proofing and simple insulation such as loft insulation, thermal blinds or secondary glazing, and the important thing is to have fun while we’re doing this. The host of the day provides a meal and refreshments, as well as any materials, and agrees to participate in other retrofixer ‘parties’! Most of us have some DIY skills, but that’s not essential as it’s also a learning opportunity. Some are good at caulking gaps and others can sew or fit heavy curtains, and anyone can squidge DraughtEx between floor boards as long as you can kneel! Ultimately, we want to have fun and build community while reducing our carbon footprint and saving money all at the same time! 

What’s next for the Retrofixers?

With regard to the Retrofixers, we are eager for more people to join our community – we currently have 26 members and there’s plenty of room for more! Join up and embrace the opportunity to build your skills, meet new people and save the planet. See our Linktree for more info. 

We have also recently got together with HeatHack – an organisation focused on helping community buildings save energy. One way they do this is by logging temperature and humidity over a period of time in all the different occupied spaces throughout a community building to see how it matches occupancy patterns. The sensors required for such an exercise are unaffordable off the shelf, but can be made up from electronic components for less than £10 each. We hope to help them in this task by making some sensors at the Tool Library, and who knows what we might learn from this!

We also hear you’re ETL’s sharpening guru! How did you get into that?

My ETL workshop induction was with Alan Cowie when I think we first talked about sharpening, and it wasn’t long before Alan encouraged me to get more involved in this. At the time I had already been sharpening tools at local community events on behalf of Portobello Timebank and we started a combined arrangement. I also took on the maintenance of ETL planes and chisels for the libraries and workshops, and in September 2020 we launched the ETL tool renovation & sharpening service,  advertised to members and the general public. As a team of three (with other ETL volunteers Pam and Sandy) we have now given tender loving care to 500+ tools and raised nearly £2k for ETL! We do this during library shifts when it’s quiet and it takes about a week before the tools are ready for collection. We mostly deal with garden tools but also woodworking tools. I have a particular soft spot for quality Japanese secateurs! 

I’d love to see more of us looking after our tools and learning how to keep them sharp. We have built our own dedicated repair bench in the Portobello tool library and have accumulated some pretty useful tools for repairing, renovating and sharpening, and there’s scope for more people doing this! There is a recent willingness in Colinton to learn these skills which is really positive and we’ll see where that leads to.

Alice? Alice? Who the heck is Alice?

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Hey Alice, welcome to the Edinburgh Tool Library.  Saying as the pandemic has kept you away from all our lovely members and volunteers, we wanted to get to know you and thought we could fire a few questions your way. 

Tell us about your journey that brought you to the ETL.  What’s been going on with you over the past few years?

Well, if we were meeting in person you’d be able to tell pretty quickly from my melodious accent that I hail from the U.S. of A.  I moved to Edinburgh in the spring of 2019, but in many ways, I feel like my path to ETL began long before that. Over the last couple of months, I’ve found myself grinning as I think about the seemingly disparate jobs and making adventures I’ve had over the years and how perfectly they’ve prepared me to make the most out of this job, personally and for the community I hope to serve. When we can all meet-up again over a beer, I can’t wait to share my top 10 tips for creating a mermaid-themed Mardi Gras ball out of trash or explain how working as a doula has changed the way I think about woodworking, but until then, you’ll have to take my word for it that the various strands of my life have landed me exactly where I need to be. 

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A poster for Alice’s Mermaid Ball fundraiser

Before moving to Scotland, I had been living in New Orleans for about 7 years working as a curator and community organizer and moonlighting as a fabricator whenever I could find the time. To be honest, I was a bit burnt out on the organizing side of things so when I came over I made a commitment to myself to work with my hands and give the maker part of me a bit more space to grow. That led me to a 6-month stint as an SFX props assistant in film, down in London. I got to do the hands-on fabrication work I love, but I quickly missed the community side of things and feeling like I was some small part of making the world a better place. 

When Covid hit, the film shut down, and like so many people I started rooting around for a way to function in this “new world”. With the utmost regard for how difficult and daunting this pandemic has been for so many, I feel incredibly lucky that being laid off gave me a chance to really think about what I wanted to do next and opened the door for this next chapter in my career.

I had to do a bit of a double-take when I came across the advert for this job.  I’ve spent my entire career, and life, really, finding ways to weave my love of making in and around my community organizing work and here was an opportunity that married the two. I consider myself a fairly imaginative person, but it had truly never crossed my mind that I could do both in the same role and certainly not within an organisation whose mission encapsulates so many of the things I hold dear; community care through direct action, sustainable and holistic making practices, and a firm belief that small choices can make a huge impact. 

Tell us about your background as a maker.

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t creating something, trying to figure out how something worked, or just keeping my hands busy with some manual task.

In college, I studied animation and installation art and focused most of my work on exploring the ways art can inspire connection to the physical world and the visceral experience of being human. It was a mostly conceptual, pretty angsty, and at the end of the day, a lot of what I was seeking would have more likely been found in going to trade school. However, it did make me think a lot about how important concrete, manual work is to the human experience and gave me access to thinking about making in a myriad of ways, pulling techniques and tools from different disciplines and educational approaches. One of the best classes I ever took was Idiosyncratic Tools where we got to put our woodshop skills to the test by making our own obscure tools. I made a vegetable guillotine and learned the hard way why a riving knife is a table saw’s best friend. 

For many years after school, I worked for different galleries and community art spaces on the organizing side of things, but I was always making on the side. Whether it was creating animations and sculptures for art shows, building over-the-top costumes and automata for parades, or helping drywall the local community print shop, I was able to always have my hands on something. 

A few years ago, I started working with Nina Nichols, my fairy godmaker and mentor supreme. I assisted her in doing prop-fabrication and set-decoration and eventually joined her as part of the build crew for the Music Box Village, a performance space and art installation of “musical houses” – small structures that are also newly invented instruments. I was able to hone my woodworking, hole-digging, cement pouring skills and had a ball working with some really big kit in their reclaimed metal fabrication workshop.

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Alice’s mentor, Nina Nichols, siliconing a mermaid tank. Just regular day at work.

In my most recent making stint working in an SFX props department on a Marvel movie called The Eternals and on Mission Impossible 7, we did a lot of reconstructing of props out of safe materials and then watching them blow up. We did everything from mould-making to sewing and a whole lot of building breakable balsa furniture. I’m looking forward to making things that don’t fall apart at a flea’s fart! 

Your job title – Workshop and Community Manager – how do you build a community, and what communities have you built before?

I feel a kindred spirit with the kind of down to earth, hands-on community work that the Tool Library fosters. I approach community building with an eye towards direct action, a curiosity about and respect for intersectionality, and a focus on the variety of ways that people can come to feel a sense of empowerment and autonomy. I believe this effort requires being dedicated and purposeful in your intention, being aware of your impact and shortcomings, and having a willingness to show up even when you don’t know how or why you’re doing something, but know something needs to be done. And perhaps, most importantly of all, the ability to ask for help so you can keep helping others. 

I have been lucky to have been a part of building several incredible communities, but the one that is closest to my heart is Glitter Box N.O, a fundraising shop and community space for women and nonbinary makers. Born from my (and my co-founders!) desire to support marginalized makers and activists through economic empowerment in a tangible way, the shop and community space contain multitudes: showcasing over 150 artists and getting them paid, raising money for local social justice groups, hosting workshops from DIY crafts to birth support, creating jobs, and creating a directory for over 500 women and nonbinary owned businesses. We somehow got all of these programmes off the ground in the first two years and while it sometimes felt as though I was building the boat while we were sailing it, I was a deeply committed, imaginative, and caring captain.

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One of the fundraising events Alice coordinated in New Orleans

If you were a tool, what tool would you be and why? (You don’t have to use the same one as before!) I’m gonna cause it’s so true! >.<

I would be a hot glue gun because while I love the power of a welder and the grace of well-loved hand-tool, I believe there is no tool too small or simple and that there is no end to what you can do with a hot glue gun and some imagination!

Why do you think organisations like ETL are important in communities?

While providing tools to the public is a purposeful and innovative approach to supporting the community in a direct way, it is the vessel for the larger magic and impact the Edinburgh Tool Library cultivates. Providing tools and other offerings (skills, jobs, workshops, resources) is a means to foster connection, mindfulness, confidence, autonomy, and joy for the individual and the larger community. I am in awe of the practical, purposeful, and all-encompassing way that the resources, attitude, and outreach affect the community. I am made hopeful by organizations like this and believe creating sharing spaces and connections will be the thing that keeps our communities afloat. Building skills, bridges, and really anything you can think of sparks a sense of purpose and belonging that can create an incredible ripple effect.  

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Alice has been part of community builds before, helping out in the Music Box Village – a village of houses that double as musical instruments

How are you going to put your stamp on ETL?  What do you bring to the party?

I’m really invested in helping people, especially folks who may experience marginalization or othering, benefit from the power of trade work and having a attuned relationship with the things that make up this world. I am incredibly earnest and easily excitable when it comes to learning new skills, connecting like-minded people, and making people feel seen and heard as much as possible. I feel really strongly that people of every age need to use their imaginations and have their curiosity sparked and celebrated. I have enthusiasm in abundance and try and bring a hint of joy and magic to most everything I do! 

What makes you jump out of bed in the morning?  What motivates you?

My mama always said, find where your great joy meets the world’s great need and at this moment I think I’ve really found it with this job. There’s nothing I like more than knowing I’m going to spend a day working away making something come to life or connecting with people who are as stoked about making and community as I am. 

What song would be playing on the opening credits of the movie of your life, and who would be playing you (and why?)?

9 To 5 by Dolly Parton. She’s my patron saint of getting things done and having fun while you do it! I think I’d have to be played by Sigourney Weaver a la Alien and I’d want the cat cast too. My partner thinks I should be played by Steve Buscemi so maybe a mix of the two, bad-ass mechanic babe meets slightly neurotic goofball. 

What does sharing mean to you?

Sharing is an act of thoughtfulness for yourself, your community, and the planet. Our ability and desire to share reveals a state of wellbeing in which we believe we have agency, that we can make a difference, and that we are willing to sacrifice for others. It may be a small sacrifice, like time spent or loss of profit, but in sharing you deem that “loss” worthy because of its benefit to something outside yourself. If we are able to share it can demonstrate that we are present and purposeful in how we interact with our things, each other, and the world. It’s about sustainability and a holistic approach to life. Whether it’s a tool, your time, or your knowledge, it’s part of a larger system of care. 

You’ve been working for ETL for a wee while.  What’s the best bit?

I’m loving learning about all of the different projects and programmes past and present and am completely invigorated by the rest of the team’s investment in and passion for the community. While it is certainly a strange time to start any job, especially as a workshop manager with a closed workshop and community manager when we can only commune in a limited capacity, the spaces and people I have been able to interact with are a complete inspiration and I’m so excited to see it all in full working gear. Plus I got to hang out with Joe the dog the other day! 

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The other staff have noticed you are slightly glitter-obsessed.  What’s that about?

My time in New Orleans was basically a never-ending ritual of glitter baptism. It’s pretty much a requirement of living there plus it makes everything look magical so what’s not to love. I’m trying to wean myself off of the microplastic stuff though and have had some success with edible glitter, plant cellulose, and mica! 

Who has been the most influential person in your life and why?

I think it has to be my dad. He’s a complete New Yorker hard ass and a bit gruff, but his love language is acts of service and he does everything in a really thorough, thoughtful way. He has a profound respect for nature and a job well done. He’s a builder and a poet and has always celebrated the Whitmanism “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes” and encouraged me to do the same.

Fiddler on the Roof

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Another Edinburgh Tool Library member Anna, tells us about the pride she got from her van rebuild, the help she got from out Tooligans, and how her van allows her to be “in the landscape”.

What do you love about being a van owner?

The sense of freedom and independence it gives you is wonderful, having your own cosy space with you wherever you go, and not having a schedule or bookings to stick to when I go away. I’m a renter so this is the one space I can do what I like to and really personalise it. I also love the feeling of being ‘in the landscape’ in the van that you don’t get staying in bricks and mortar. I have a little tent too, but the van hasa few more ‘home comforts’, and you don’t have to set it all up again each time you move.

What is your favourite part of your van?

My favourite part of the van is the kitchen; it’s what really makes the van feel homely. The effort in hand-making the basin out of an enamel bowl and days spent oiling the wooden worktop were definitely worth it,and the spice racks and tiles are very satisfying final touches. The kitchen is tiny and pretty basic – I haven’t got a built-in cooker or fridge – but it’s amazing what you can still do with the a simple set of kit. With just my pocket rocket and a small cool box I can go over a week living off grid if I had to (although a hot shower every other day is a nice luxury!).

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How did you feel when you completed your van?

I think as most van builders (or DIY-ers in general) would say, it’s never quite finished, there are always finishing touches or adaptations to make… But firstly I was exhausted when it was finished, as I was working all hours around my regular job to get it finished for a weekend away. I was also really proud of what I’d made though, having done it all myself, and excited to show it to my family and friends. My family were pretty amazed, probably because I’d never really done any big DIY projects before, and though I had a clear vision in my head I think others were a bit more sceptical!

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What was the most challenging part of the van build?

Cutting and fitting the wall panels were definitely the most difficult bit. I used a template which was pretty essential, but you still really have one go at getting it right, and at £25 a sheet for the material cutting it wrong is an expensive mistake. It was very frustrating, and it’s far from a perfect finish, but it works and I’m sure I notice the flaws more than other people! Why is doing the van yourself important to you?I think the number one reason was to prove to myself that I could do it. I like a challenge and am always looking for a new one, so I was really keen to learn and put into practice new skills. I also really enjoy being self-sufficient, so converting the van myself I know exactly how everything was put together and works, and I was able to tailor-make every detail to how I wanted it as I went along.

How much money do you think you saved by sharing ETL tools instead of having to buy them yourself?

I’ve probably saved upwards of £150 using the tool library, which is great, plus I don’t have tools hanging around that I won’t use again for a few years, and have to find space to store them. But I’ve got more than just saving money from it. I’ve learned how to use larger tools in the workshops that I would never have bought myself, and benefited from the advice of tool librarians as to which tools were best for each job, and how to use them properly. It gave me confidence to use larger and more powerful tools which will be good for future projects, and the finish is much more neat and professional when you use the right tool for the job.

A Van After My Own Heart

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Sergio and Clara refurbed their van from scratch. Just don’t ask them about the insulation…

In the last year or two, we have noticed more and more members using ETL tools to complete van refurbishments, escaping the city for trips across Scotland and beyond, so our intrepid volunteer, Lorenzo, decided to document some of the fantastic vans rebuild by our members. The results are pretty special places, and the doorway to thousands of beautiful mornings opening doors on breathtaking scenery.

Our first chat is with Sergio and Clara.

Tell us a bit about yourself: where are you from, what do you do for work, and what do you do for fun?

Well, we are both from Portugal and have a 13 year old daughter named Bruna. We came to live in Scotland just over 11 years ago, Clara works at an organics grocery store and practices Yoga and long walks. I work in the Edinburgh Cycle Scheme and I love long walks, skateboarding and mountain biking. Together we love travelling in any way shape or form.

What do you love about being a van owner?

The short answer… The freedom. The longer answer is the freedom, the safety, the unpredictability of the trips and the sense of having a home no matter what.

What has been your favourite trip so far and why?

The inaugural trip across Europe, where some of the highlights are cities such Ljubljana, Zagreb and Budapest, or seing Rammestein in Prague.

What is your favourite part of your van? Which bit gave you the most satisfaction when you completed it?

The double bed – no doubt, to open the back doors in the morning and just loving the view. The ceiling for was also such a challenging task (read: nightmare!).

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The beauty of being a van owner is you wake up in a new place every morning

How did you feel when you completed your van? Why is doing the van yourself important to you?

More than satisfaction was the relief of not having messed up the van 🙂 , and being able to go on the trip we had planned previously. It was very important because we believe that the character of your home can only be built by yourself, and not bought, also the sense of achievement was also huge.

How much money do you think you saved by sharing ETL tools instead of having to buy them yourself?

I didn’t even research much tool prices but even in second hand tools it would have been upwards of £400 for tools that once done wouldn’t be used again.

What do you think of sharing libraries in general and the idea that wealth should be in the community rather than with the individual?

I think it is an essential mindset that would make us all rich by sharing the same items, in societies that function on a endless obsession with consumption we end up not valuing the planets resources, also means that everyone would be able to have the same opportunities to use learn and develop, that is the whole idea of a community.

Photo credit:

Tzipporah Johnston: Mask Crusader

Tzipporah Johnston: Mask Crusader 22

Tzipporah Johnston is an embroiderer and mixed media textile artist based in Edinburgh, whose work explores aspects of her identity as an autistic woman and her fascination with the natural world. Her hand embroidery practice is slow and painstaking, and informed by meticulous research, with each carefully considered piece taking weeks or months to complete. She is a Tool Library member, volunteer, and one of our Young Makers in Residence. We chatted to her about volunteerism, her art, and her experiences of lockdown.

Firstly, please tell us about your involvement with the tool library.  How did it originally come about?  And how are you involved now?

I first joined the tool library way back when it was shiny and new, because I was building a cat tree for my then cat, Ginny, and I needed to borrow a drill and a jigsaw. It turned out enormous – a huge green fun fur monstrosity, so large that it takes two people to lift it, and without a single right angle in the thing. Ginny was not impressed. I realised that the actual woodwork bit might not be for me.* but I liked the idea of a sharing economy, and I like cataloguing things, so I started volunteering behind the scenes, adding tools to the system. Increasingly now I do tool prep rather than cataloguing, so most people encounter me as a name at the bottom of an email asking you to bring back your tools on time. Sorry!

*There is a happy ending to this story, which is that my current cats, Hodge and Waffles, love the wonky cat tree. It was clearly just waiting for the right cat to come along to appreciate it.

You are a maker yourself, and use the Portobello space as your studio.  Please tell us about what you make, and what it signifies.  What does your art say?

I’m an embroiderer and mixed media textile artist, so I combine three-dimensional embroidery with installation work. Most of my work explores aspects of being autistic, particularly monotropism, or autistic hyperfocus on narrow or restricted interests.  For Porty Art Walk 2019, I created an installation called the Museum of Monotropism to explore my ‘special interests’ – a term that a lot of autistic people are ambivalent about, but which I like – and present a kind of window into an autistic brain. A lot of depictions of autism focus on deficit and distress, but I want to show people that there is beauty in autistic ways of seeing.

Lockdown has been a challenging time for everyone, how have you found it to be?

I feel quite ambivalent about it, and I think that’s true of a lot of autistic people and people with anxiety. There is the distress of our routines being disrupted, the uncertainty about how long things will go on for and anxiety about what a new normal will look like. But for a lot of us, leaving the house and interacting with people is a constant struggle. Suddenly the world is telling us what we had always suspected – that outside is scary, and we should just hide in our houses where it’s safe. So there’s a relief in being allowed to do that, but it also means that many of us are losing hard-won skills that have taken years of practice. I’ve spent two years with my support workers practicing leaving the house. I finally had a couple of places near my house that I could go on my own. Now all that progress has been lost, and I struggle to even go into the street outside my house. I think a lot of autistic people are going to struggle to adapt as the lockdown eases.

Since the tool library closed up, you have been volunteering in other ways, making masks.  Please tell us about the masks and how you got involved.  How many have you made?

I initially made a few for my family, just as an emergency preparedness thing in case one of us got sick. But then I found out that a friend down in London, who has complex disabilities and is very vulnerable, was being visited several times a day by carers wearing no PPE at all. There simply wasn’t any available in London at the time. I made up a care package of all the hand sanitiser and disposable masks I could find, and made a pile of cloth masks for her for when those ran out. Soon her carers were contacting me asking for more for when they visited their other clients. People saw photos of masks I’d made, or met people wearing them, and started contacting me, and I realised how little PPE was available to people working in social care. Then I discovered the data scientist Jeremy Howard and his #masks4all campaign, which basically argues that we need at least 80% of the general population to be wearing face coverings to help slow the spread of coronavirus, so I started making them for the general population too. So far I’ve made just over 1000, distributed partly through word of mouth, and partly through call-outs on the Edinburgh Mask Makers group. If anyone reading this can sew, please do think about making masks through them! The group receives requests from all over Scotland, and there is far more demand out there than we could ever fulfil.

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Tzipporah, wearing one of her own masks created as one of the Edinburgh Mask Makers group. Cat: model’s own.

What are your hopes for the future once we come out of lockdown?  Do you think things can change for the better?  If so, how?  

I want to believe things can change. I hope the sense of kindness and community lasts, and also the sense that people are being more thoughtful about waste and stewarding resources now that people don’t have such ready access to consumption. As a disabled person who has been housebound for long periods, I hope that it’s given people some small insight into what our lives are like and therefore a bit more empathy. For instance, many disabled people have been denied adaptations like working from home – I think that will be harder to justify now.

Why is sharing resources important to you?

It’s twofold – firstly, sharing cuts down on the amount of waste we produce as a society, which is at unsustainable levels. But also, it’s a social leveller, as resources like the tool library allow people who might not be able to afford it to access tools, and that access can have a transformative effect on people’s lives. When I was a teenager, one of my friends was made homeless, and I still remember the absolute horror show of his new council flat – it was practically uninhabitable. We were able to lend him all the tools, paint etc that he needed to get it liveable, but I remember thinking, what if you had no one to help you? The tool library means everyone can access the things they need to improve their environment.

How has your involvement in the tool library helped you?  What would you say to someone who is thinking about volunteering, but hasn’t made their mind up yet?

Volunteering at ETL has made a massive difference to me. When I started I’d just arrived back in Edinburgh and I was really struggling to even leave the house, let alone talk to an actual human being. Everyone at the tool library has been really patient and let me progress at my own pace. For the first year I essentially hid in a garage and would only see the same person – if they were off, I wouldn’t come. I’d never have got to the point where I could have a little studio in Portobello, and even hold classes, if they hadn’t let me build up to it at my usual glacial speed. It’s a really supportive place to volunteer, so if you’re thinking about it but are anxious, take the plunge!

You can see more of Tzipporah’s work on her website or her Instagram page, and find out about how to get involved with the Edinburgh Mask Makers through their Facebook group.

Alice in Farmland

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Alice Roettgen, whilst working at Colin Parker Furniture.
Photography by Ross Fraser Mclean

Our third interview is with Alice Roettgen, one of our technicians at Custom Lane, who is using enforced downtime to connect with her new community in Gorgie, by helping out at the farm.  Alice has been with us since before Christmas, and quickly made a really positive difference with her infectious enthusiasm and willingness to get involved.  As well as member sessions, she has been helping to run the Women’s Woodshop sessions, as well as helping coordinate a build for the Social Bite Village.

Hey Alice, tell us about yourself – what do you make? And what’s your connection to the Tool Library? 

I am freelance furniture maker and yoga teacher based in Edinburgh and am involved as a technician at the tool library – so usually I help run the open workshop sessions and use the workshops to work on my own projects. At the moment I am making rather little – but before lockdown I have done small projects for friends, either building it for them or creating it with them, teaching them basic woodworking processes. 

Do you think of yourself as creative? Do you think everyone is? 

Yes, I’m starting to!  I think of creativity as the unique way of how people express what is going on for them – so that can be done in a myriad of ways, not just through art. I am often paralyzed by the fear of making mistakes, but I am trying to find a lighthearted, playful approach to making and creating, because it really doesn’t matter if it turns out bad, just keep playing and see where you find joy. And I think with practise and joy and commitment, good things will grow and follow. I have finally gotten round to making scrapbooks and photo albums and decorating my room. 

I think real creativity can also come from removing technology, and allowing yourself to get bored!  That’s when real creativity can kick in – allowing yourself to get lost in something.

What are you doing while locked down? Have you come up with any improvised making? I am self-employed, so I am finding it hard to find a routine that suits me. So in the last week, I have given myself the permission to let go of that and see where my interests take me. I teach yoga online through Zoom. I have taken up volunteering at a food bank/farm opposite where I live and I have started an online network for UK-based female woodworkers which people should definitely check out (Women in Woodwork UK).  I’m trying to focus on things I can do from home. I have also started gardening and rearranged my room 4-5 times! I go out running, cycling, skating (mainly on my bum) and walking – got to know Edinburgh quite well. I cook and eat a lot, skype and spend lots of time with friends from Germany and all over. I play table tennis with my housemate, binge watch TV shows. 

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Alice, taking a break from feeding animals, and really embracing the locked up look

The Female woodwork network sounds great.  Can you tell us more?

It’s called Women in Woodwork UK, and is really about supporting women in the trade with information about courses, funding, and showcasing their skills.  It’s about the amazing women makers we have in this country, what is their story, what are they making and what are they about.  To make it as a female woodworker, you’ve got to have so much character.  Lots of things are against you, that I didn’t realise until I started getting serious about it.  For example, the size of the tools, the boots, PPE and overalls – they aren’t made for women.  We are trying to create an online space where women can share their experiences and advice for each other.

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Alice’s latest project, Women in Woodwork, UK

The Tool Library is based on sharing resources, and we have seen some amazing acts of kindness and sharing things during the current health crisis. How do you think society will view sharing after this is all over? 

I hope people will be a bit more savvy in how to keep things safe and clean and see the positives of local trade/exchange, over global (which is great sometimes, but only where it’s suited to the situation). And I hope that people will appreciate close knit communities, neighbourhoods and a sense of taking care of each other more, making do with what they have and what is already available. 

The environment seems to be enjoying fewer cars on the roads and planes in the sky. How have you viewed our relationship with nature since this all started? 

I have read a few books with trees and nature at their core in the recent weeks. I really do hope that more and more people will become more aware of how interwoven we and our behaviours are with nature, but I am skeptical, I also think some people might just revert back to their behaviours from before (freedom of cheap travel etc.).

I also think that we are possibly more absorbed by technology than before, (I definitely am), I think a lot of people are so saturated by it at points throughout the week or day, that they really cherish their walks out and about, turning to physical activies,appreciate the making of things like bread and turning their hands to gardening / growing in an urban setting. 

What should normal life look like once we all get back to day-to-day life? Can we go back to how it was or should we look for something better – and if so, what does ‘better’ look like? 

I hope that there will be a shift of values and increased investment into what were seen as basic, but now viewed as essential jobs, such as health care, food production, logistics and the creation of even stronger communities, so that ideally no one, or fewer people, feel left behind in their struggles. 

Thanks for chatting with us Alice, if people want to follow your adventures or join you for yoga, how can they find you? 

The Women in Woodworking UK network is on Instagram at the moment. Check it out and give us a follow.

I’m also teaching yoga every morning from 8-9am, so if you want to get your day off to a good start, follow @slowflowyogalice on Instagram and join me.

Neighbours, Everybody Needs Creative Neighbours

Neighbours, Everybody Needs Creative Neighbours 30
Juli-Bolanos-Durman in her studio at Custom Lane, above the ETL workshop.
Photo by Shannon Tofts Photography

As residents of Custom Lane, The Edinburgh Tool Library is lucky to have some very creative and supportive neighbours. We caught up with one of them, Juli Bolanos-Durman, who is putting her creativity to wonderful use to help others during the lockdown.

Hey Juli, tell us a bit about yourself, your practice, and your connection to the Tool Library.

I’m a Costa Rican artist based in Edinburgh since I graduated from my Master’s Degree from The University of Edinburgh.

I make my art from recycled glass, so when I moved in three years ago to Custom Lane, there was an immediate connection to ETL through the idea of giving materials a second chance.  And they are my neighbours of course!

Through my work, I invite the audience to delve into a magical world of second chances, where waste material is the starting point. I create raw pieces that are put together intuitively through the joyfulness of play, exploring different materials and ideas to challenge the boundaries of art and its meaning. I’m interested in how this visceral bond between the maker and material permeates the creative process, guiding it to become something new. These objects honour the instinctual need to create something with our hands, and how this act of making connects us to our forefathers/foremothers and the future. 

Neighbours, Everybody Needs Creative Neighbours 31
Juli’s collection, “La Virgencita” is made entirely from recycled and repurposed glass.
Photo by Shannon Tofts Photography

Who is your inspiration?  Where does your creativity come from?

Inspiration comes from everywhere. I just try to stop and observe my surroundings. But my practice is led by my need to give discarded waste a second chance, to be repurposed and re-imagined to become something new.

My creativity comes from being in the garden all day, every day when I was a kid back in Costa Rica. I grew up with my cheeky cousins and we would entertain ourselves for hours on end, making up games and being mischievous. I credit that to my creative muscle and how anytime I am feeling a bit overwhelmed, I know this is an invaluable too will always be with me.

Lockdown is a bit of a strange time, but it seems you have found good use of your talents!  Can you tell us about this project you have been working on to keep kids entertained while they are inside?

We are being forced to stay in close quarters and in silence, something we aren’t used to much since we have gotten used to a busy life. But during this first couple of days in quarantine, I found myself really stressed, in fear of what was happening around the world and the future of it all. So I decided to turn off the news and focus on something small, something I could control. This started with my breathing, and then, since I love to draw and colour, I started doing this as much as I could.

The days started to ease and I began thinking that I wanted to contribute in some way.  I was chatting with Martha McNaughton, who works in PR, branding and communications in London. We partnered to do this project and in 2 weeks, #StayCreative with Juli was live.

I’ve created downloadable, printable or traceable drawings, inspired by my love of nature, which are free, and can be used to entertain kids and adults!  I’m hoping that people will enjoy the meditative nature of creating something, and by focussing on a small picture, they won’t feel anxious about the bigger one.

Neighbours, Everybody Needs Creative Neighbours 32
Follow the link at the bottom of the page to get downloadable art for little and big ones to colour in and decorate, then tag Juli in social media using #StayCreative

You mentioned stress and anxiety of the situation.  How does doing something creative help reduce this?

I think creativity, and particularly in a situation when we are isolated, is important because we are doing it just for ourselves, to have fun, to foster joy through this meditation.  For me it’s drawing and colouring, but for others it might be going and organising their closet by colour, doing spreadsheets, or cooking.  Whatever it is, just go do it!

ETL is all about sharing.  Why do you think sharing is important?  (feel free to go as literal or tangential as you want)

No one is an island. We are social creatures that have deviated from this a bit, but this pandemic is here to remind of our core values and what really is important. I want to be a part of a community that takes care of each other and everyone has something particular of value to offer. 

This is why I have loved ETL initiative since I first meet you and all the wonderful work you have been doing for the community. This has inspired me to do more and connect. 

The creative industries and outlets for the general public to be creative are often the first things to go during financial crises.  How important do you think creativity will be to the morale of a community?

Creativity is a fundamental tool to foster joy, it is a meditation that calms the mind focusing on what is in front and helping regulate and regenerate our systems. For me, this is what making something with our hands represent to me and I love it. 

Life is going to be different once the health crisis is over.  What do you want the new ‘new normal’ to look like?

As well as a tragedy, this is also an opportunity for us to reimagine the world we are living in, but it clearly isn’t sustainable.  We need to go back to basics, and remember our core values: family, community and how we can support each other. The earth can’t sustain a capitalist model, and for us working in the creative industries, I hope that people start to think more locally, meet the makers that live near them and think about supporting local craftspeople and makers.  You might be able to pick up something on Amazon cheap as chips, but who is actually “paying” for that?

Finally, if people want to find out more about your work, or download your awesome kids project, how can they connect with you?

You can download the art from and share the outcome on social media through Instagram / Twitter using #StayCreative. Please tag me (@julibd_com) as I would love to see what you have come up with.

Designs on Volunteering

Designs on Volunteering 33

We want to bring you a bit closer to some of the folks that help make The Edinburgh Tool Library the special place that it is, and shine a light on some of the unsung volunteers, characters and creatives that help to build our community. First up, is Zoe Ugne, who volunteers every Wednesday, yet is probably not someone you will have ever met at the Tool Library.

Tell us a bit about yourself, what do you do, how are you creative, and what do you do at ETL?

I’m a graphic designer, specialising in branding. My studio is called Studio Zo and in a few months it will be one year old! I help ETL with their graphics – brand guidelines, print design and making sure their visual identity game is strong and uniform.

Who is your inspiration?  Where does your creativity come from?

I have an older sister and I grew up constantly trying to reach her level of skill and creativity. We went into slightly different directions – she’s an interior designer and I’m a graphic designer – but we still fuel each other’s creativity. Nowadays I’m inspired by those slow, beautiful moments… #daysofsimplethings

Why do you think sharing/the ETL ethos is important in the modern world?

A few important reasons: we are One and we should share – kindness, love and tools; there’s too many of us and we can’t keep making things, we need to think about our impact on this planet. The reality is that Earth would thrive without us.

Designs on Volunteering 34
Zoe at her desk that she upcycled at ETL, with help from Jonny and our volunteers

Why is volunteering important to you?

Because it’s about giving. Giving more allows us to feel more connected to our community and the world, it’s healthy. 

Lockdown is a bit of a weird time.  How are you keeping busy?  What creative outlets do you have?

Keeping busy keeps us ‘asleep’. I think it is important to use this time now to slow down, look within, face our fears and grow. I am hoping that we will come out of this having more compassion and appreciation for each other and ourselves. I do, however, like structuring my day for work, exercise, chores (but also leaving space for breaks, meditation, reading).

We are all getting used to our ‘new normal’, but once the health crisis is over, how do you want the world to change?  What should the new ‘new normal’ look like?

I want us all to appreciate and love nature and our planet more. To understand that slow living is good for the soul. To stop being rats in a maze and start living authentically, stop escapism. To observe our ego and no longer let it drive, put it in the back seat. To stop mindless consumerism, to stop numbing ourselves and to feel more accountability.

If readers want to follow or commission your work, how do they find out more about you/get in touch with you?

Email me at and I’ll get right back to you. My new website will launch soon but in the meantime have a look at my Instagram @studiozo_design

Interview with Mo, member #69

Photo Of Mo

Hi Mo, first of all, can you tell us a little bit about yourself

Hello. I’m a self-employed joiner. I worked on sites previously but now trying to set up my own business. I’m born and raised in Edinburgh and live in Leith.

…like all the best things in the city, you’re in Leith?


How did you first come across the tool library then?

I was receiving support through Crisis Scotland and I turned up to volunteer with one of their projects – the Bridgend Farmhouse, and met you (Chris) there. ETL was supplying tools to help the project and so I learned about what you do there.

And what sort of stuff were you doing at Bridgend?

I was building gates, and doing some demolition work there, ripping stuff down… making a mess! While I was there I got a grant from Crisis for just under two thousand pounds to buy my own set of tools to set up my joinery business.

So you got these tools given to you Mo –how come? Tell us a bit about your background with tools.

College first, learned from other people, taught myself.

What do you think about the ETL service?

It’s great, the website is really smart and I know that, although I have my own tools, there is sometimes I only need something for a quick job, so I can go on to the ETL website and just order it from there. Ten years ago, when I set out, it would have been even more useful!

We are starting a mentorship programme within ETL, pairing young people with older experiences tradespeople. Would this have helped you a few years ago?

Aye, it would have been great. It’s good to learn from someone who has done more than you have, and has more experience. Most trades are like that. You only learn so much in college and after that you learn from doing it yourself. I also think spending time with older people can help young people to have respect for their elders, and that these days often people like these don’t mix. If someone is helping you, and teaching you, you can’t help but learn to respect them.

You have found a few bits of work through ETL too?

Yeah. I did some work for Helen, who I think you have interviewed already, and Tribe Porty got in touch after I did some volunteering there too. I also helped out a couple of fellow members too. I think they’ve all been happy with my work!

Indeed so! When I was talking to Helen she was absolutely raving about you! “5-star review” “so polite and well-mannered, and does such a good job!”

What would you say to someone who was considering joining the tool library?

Just do it eh? Your always gonna need tools, especially if you are moving in to a new flat. It can be quite expensive, so just get your tools from the tool library and save yourself some money. Tools aren’t cheap nowadays! I got my grant from Crisis and I still don’t have all the tools I need!

So I’m really interested in how doing little jobs and making things makes people feel. How do you feel after a successful piece of work?

Well I feel proud, and I feel good about myself. Even if it’s just putting up a shelf, you feel satisfied every time you look at it and it’s straight and plumb to the wall.

I can only imagine straight shelves as I’ve no experience in my flat!

What about your favourite thing you’ve made over the years?

It’s probably a reception desk I built, a crescent shape for a company in Aberdeen, and it’s still there to this day, which is an endorsement of the work I think. Again, that makes me really proud.

* Since the interview took place earlier in the year, Mo has secured full time work as a contract joiner for the next two years. He has also recently taken up a part time role with the tool library, and will be available to help you with your woodwork projects every Wednesday from 5-8pm and Saturday from 2-5pm in our workshop at 9 Spey Street Lane. Welcome to the team Mo!

Interview with Helen, member #65

Interview with Helen, member #65 35

on International Women’s Day

Wonder Woman

Helen has been a member of ETL since September 2015. She is a huge supporter of the tool library, and one of our greatest advocates, so we thought it might be interesting to do an interview with her to find out her story, what she is making, and what she thinks is so special about the tool library. Chris Hellawell, our founder, caught up with her on February the 25th, in the run up to a special day for her. We thought it would be appropriate to celebrate this most special of people on International Women’s Day.

Helen – we salute you!

Hi Helen, and thanks for chatting to us today. Firstly, just tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you came across ETL.

I live in Saughton Mains. I moved there two years ago when I downsized because of my health. It’s a single persons flat, tiny, but absolutely beautiful. When I moved in, I loved the peace, the quiet, but I wanted to decorate. I’d left my tools at my old home as there was no storage at the new place. I got some help to decorate – general help, but the hands-on decoration I wanted to do myself eventually.

I go to the library in Wester Hailes and I sit with one of the girls, and I was saying to her that I desperately wanted to hire some tools, and I thought at my age, what’s the point in buying them anyway? And I thought there must be somewhere that hires tools reasonably so I can start thinking about getting things together for the flat. So, we did a search engine on the computer, and eventually we noticed “tool library”. It was just so simple. She said to me “It’s in Leith”, and I said “Leith’s got everything!” I mean, Leith is a community, and it has things like this! So she wrote it all down for me, and on the Saturday morning, lo and behold, I came down to this police box, and I realised I used to go to the dancing at the club behind it!

I went down to the police box, and met yourself, Chris, and I went home thinking I was walking on cloud 5, 9, 6 and 7 – I felt great, because I had found somewhere that had all the tools I needed, and I could afford it. I absolutely loved the idea.

You have become a bit of a champion of the tool library so we hear…

I told them back at the Wester Hailes library, took some fliers in there. Even when I was on the bus this morning I was telling the lady next to me. She is in an army veterans house and is finding it difficult to get everything done in the house because some of the work isn’t in the job description of the maintenance people. So lo and behold I went into my ‘tool library spiel’ as I call it and told her how she could get things and where the police box is, so she wrote it all down.

You’re a one woman marketing team!…

Well I am really. I know that some of the people I know have family that can help do DIY and such, but some people are like me and they don’t have anybody to help them. I know that the one thing that it has done for me it to make me feel confident about myself and make me feel like I’m still worthy. When people come into my house and they say “Oh, who’s done that? It’s lovely.” I feel great because I’ve done it, not a painter and decorator.

The money I’ve saved – it’s hysterical! I got a quote for some people to put blinds in the house and they were asking for £340. Because I can come to the tool library, and I know how to put the blinds up, I could do the whole job for just the cost of the blinds, which was less than £150. I bought them, measured them, mapped them all up and did it myself. It takes me a bit longer than it used to, but I just take my time and work hard one day and then rest the next one.

You’re too kind Helen! So what have you been borrowing?

Mainly drills and drill bits, but I knew that everything and anything I could think of, I could come and see the tool library.

And you also needed help from an expert too?

Aye. I was trying to get a handyman to change the light fixtures in the house. I’d bought each of the fittings and had set about trying to find an someone – God they’re expensive! I was being quoted £200-£250 and I’m thinking “Hello!!!!”

Because of my age, my lights are never going to get changed again – it’s a one off situation, so I need to be able to justify the spend. I had one young laddie who said he could do this, that and the other, but he let me down, and never turned up. So I was wondering who I knew who might be able to help me out, and I was coming down to the tool library, so I thought I’d ask then. So I went down on a Saturday morning and I asked if they knew anyone who could help, and they did! And you know, I left that police box again on such a high, cos you told me you knew someone who might be able to help. Two months I’d been trying to get someone out, and I should have asked at the tool library.

So this young man Mo, phoned me, duly made an appointment, turned up – absolutely fabulous, and I had the job done in two hours, and he was brilliant. You know? I went about that house for the rest of that day turning lights on and off! In a day and a half, the tool library had helped me sort something out that I’d been trying to do for weeks, and I have nothing but good things to say about them.

So where’s the fire Helen? What’s the rush for all this DIY to happen?

Well it’s my birthday next Monday (February the 29th), and because I only have a birthday every four years, my friends and I are having a ladies cocktail afternoon on Saturday! So I’m 17 on Monday… I’ll be six years younger than my grandson, so that’s what all this is for. Since I joined the tool library, I’ve not let anybody visit me, I’ve visited them but I’ve not let them come, and Saturday, 1 o’clock sharp, my closest and dearest friends are going to be there, and I’m going to open that front door with pride.

Stay tuned for another member interview in the coming weeks. In the meantime, happy International Women’s Day.

Big love,

The Tool Librarians