The Never Failing Spring

By Dave Clancy

The Never Failing Spring 1

These are strange times, even for the strange times we have all gotten used to living in. As I write, a significant proportion of the world is still under lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with an estimated 2.6 billion people living with some sort of restrictions to their daily lives. A situation unthinkable only a few months ago, there is still much uncertainty as to how we find our way out of this and where we will end up. Questions about immunity and vaccines abound, but also ones about our loss of rhythm and intimacy. How do we get back to that place where we can once again come together, to celebrate, to support, to live like the social beings we all are? What does seem certain is that our old ways of living will require some tweaking, perhaps even radical changes. Amid the tragedies, and anger, and economic destruction that the virus is still wreaking, some are hopeful that the crisis can ultimately be a catalyst for positive change, and a reimagining of our future world. 

One such optimist is Chris Hellawell, founder and CEO of the Edinburgh Tool Library (ETL). Founded in 2015, the ETL, the first of its kind in the UK, operates like a library but with tools instead of books. Members pay a small fee each year to access an array of tools ranging from hammers to lawnmowers to pressure sprayers. They save both money and space, and can make use of workshops where friendly ETL volunteers stand by to offer help and advice on projects. But the ETL’s mission extends far beyond just tool-lending. It provides training and opportunities for young people facing barriers to employment, partners with other organisations on social projects, and even offers woodwork classes. And, just like a traditional library, its three locations across Edinburgh act as focal points for the community, a place where ideas and skills, and not just things, can be shared.

I’ve known Chris for over five years now, having met through a mutual friend, and ended up as a treasurer and trustee of the ETL for 3 years. Chris has that effect on people. I’ve never known him to be anything less than optimistic or inspiring. ‘A glass half full kind of guy’ he says, in a typically understated way. We meet, as is now the norm, over a video call. We laugh at the strangeness of it all. But social distancing presents challenges for social enterprises like the ETL. Because of the lock-down, it is unable to carry out tool-lending or workshops. But while the five full-time staff are now furloughed or on leave, the ETL and its volunteers, also known as Tooligans, are anything but idle. 

‘We are not directly useful to battling a virus, but we have the facilities there and the resources and the network of volunteers that can be useful to people’, says Chris. And they are. The ETL van (electric of course), along with workshop manager Jonny, are helping deliver food packages and supplies to vulnerable residents in Wester Hailes, a socio-economically disadvantaged area of Edinburgh. Sewing machines, usually available to borrow as part of the 1000-plus tool inventory, have been distributed to some of the 800-strong Edinburgh Mask Makers group, who are making face-masks to help stop the spread of COVID-19. The ETL is also helping with logistics. It has built secure collection boxes for the masks, and is assisting with the collection and distribution to the places that need them. Realising there was PPE in their now shuttered workshops, masks were donated to a local care home too. These are just some examples of the kind of support ETL provides to the community and the Third Sector. And this is the real point of the ETL: an enabler, a connector and a doer, filling the gaps, helping others out and linking people as it does. An embodiment of the whole, the community, being greater than the sum of its parts. 

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Jonny, and Eddie Van Haulin’ out delivering supplies in Wester Hailes

The ETL is part of what is sometimes referred to as the ‘Sharing Economy’. This term, which describes an economic system where assets or services are shared between people, can be seen as a describing a number of different approaches along a spectrum. At one end sit companies like Airbnb and Uber, capitalist and profit-seeking, and at the other social enterprises such as the ETL, with community and positive social and environmental outcomes firmly at their core. Whilst there are some similarities in terms of efficient use of resources, Chris does not think comparisons between the 2 ends of the spectrum make sense. In fact, he believes that while the term does apply to the ETL, ‘money-making large companies that don’t pay their fair share of taxes’, such as those multi-billion dollar businesses, ‘don’t have much to do with sharing’. 

The reaction of all businesses, regardless of economic model to this crisis will, thinks Chris, be a differentiator going forward. ‘People will remember you were a positive force in the community’, pointing out that businesses who have ‘stepped up will realise that people do care about this stuff, and they will do well’. He foresees a continuation, even an acceleration of the trend, seen from local businesses to the world’s capital markets of people demanding more from companies. It’s no longer enough to provide good products and services, there is now also a demand that companies are socially aware, that they treat their staff well and, in short, are good citizens.

Not far from the docks of Leith where the ETL is based, Edinburgh city centre is a hub for global financial asset management, where the trend towards ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) or ‘responsible / sustainable investing’, backs up Chris’ thoughts. In recent weeks, there has also been a shift away from shareholder capitalism towards what is being referred to as ‘stakeholder capitalism’. As a result many Finance companies have suspended paying their usual dividends to shareholders in order to better look after small businesses and their workforce. Other things are stirring too. Talk on Universal Basic Income, long a fringe idea for revolutionising the economy, is firmly back on the table and is arguably being implemented right now in much of the Western world. 

But Chris also thinks that as well as enterprises becoming more ‘social’, that social enterprises themselves will increasingly be seen as an economic model for the future. He concedes that they will likely take a hit in the short term (the average charity or non-profit is advised to have cash in the bank for just 3 months of expenses) but points out that more and more people are realising, especially in the eye of the pandemic storm, that organisations with community at their heart, are the ones you can trust and want around. ‘People are really starting to understand these are the things that I need in my life, these are the things that are non-essential. And community is essential’. 

The recent surge in community spirit points towards the strength of this feeling. The Thursday communal ‘Clap for our Carers’ sees millions of people stand outside their homes, socially distant, but together, to applaud NHS workers. An estimated 1 million people volunteered to help the NHS in England during the crisis, and there are numerous stories of neighbours banding together to ensure everyone on their street has enough food, supplies and reading material. This trend towards a society that is more community-minded and focused on people and the environment, already underway, may be accelerated by the pandemic.

‘A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone’ said Henry David Thoreau in his book Walden. First published in 1854, it has offered meaning for every age since. Viewed right now, we can see that although COVID-19 has brought tragedy and disruption and untold misery, an unexpected bright spot may be glimpsed in its pausing of our world. It has hushed some of the incessant noise scrambling our thoughts, it has slowed the dizzying pace of modern life and, having allowed people the time and clear space to think, might just have liberated us from some of the things we thought we could not let alone. ‘People are able to spend some time identifying what they really want to do’, Chris says.

But we do not live in this brave new world right now, and mundane things like rent and wages and bills still need to be paid. Chris fears that many charities will struggle to survive. And I wonder whether Chris and the ETL are fearful given the headwinds they face – both financial and logistical – given their model of gathering people together and sharing things. They are still spending money, paying rent and some staff, and they are still sharing and donating resources and time – are they doing too much now and risking not being around in the sunshine of the spring following this sudden, sharp winter? ‘We could hunker down and just not do anything and get through it’ says Chris, ‘…but even if we don’t [get through it], there is no point in sitting on this money and not following through on our values and our ethos’. 

His words bring back an echo of October 2015 from the back room of Boda Bar on Leith Walk. The ETL’s first AGM – truly another world. I was nervously thinking about my Treasurer speech, when Chris spoke about the impact of the then fledging ETL, the power of volunteering and the difference it can make to local communities. A friend who was there later confided how moved and inspired she was by it. The act of giving up your time and energy and not seeking money or credit, or any payback is one that has perhaps been overlooked as the world has hurtled towards seemingly unfettered free-market capitalism. 

Lewis Hyde, in his extraordinary book, ‘The Gift’, examines the difference between things given as gifts, or shared, without an expectation of payment, and those given in exchange for money. ‘A circulation of gifts creates community out of individual expressions of goodwill’, he says and goes on to describe how things given as gifts ‘increase – in wealth or in liveliness- as they move from hand to hand’. Lawrence Lessig, in ‘Remix’, brings all of this into context. ‘Gifts in particular, and the sharing economy in general, are thus devices for building connections with people. They establish relationships, and draw upon those relationships. They are the glue of community….’

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ETL won the CEC Inspiring Edinburgh Team Volunteering award in 2018

Chris and the ETL are giving and sharing and as a result strengthening and increasing the community in which they live. The gifts they give, through volunteering and sharing, are increasing in worth, resulting in a more resilient, anti-fragile, and richer community. They may even be doing this to the detriment of their own future, but Chris, ever the optimist, stands firm. ‘If you say yes to helping people or you do the right thing when you have the chance…. You don’t know where that’s gone. If you do it for the right reasons and do the right thing, it will be alright.’   

Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist, once said ‘A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.’ The world at the minute feels a bit like a desert, facing a drought of jobs, money and human connection, brought on by COVID-19. The ETL, and social enterprises like it, with their models of sharing and generosity over profits stand oasis-like before us. A never failing source of strength and community, they can be a vision for the future and an inspiration in dark times. It does however, require us to have a strange but beautiful kind of faith that everything will be okay. That as Walt Whitman said ‘the gift is to the giver, and comes back most to him – it cannot fail’. Here’s hoping. 

Dave Clancy is a former Treasurer of ETL, and is now exploring the world as a writer of creative non-fiction.

Tzipporah Johnston: Mask Crusader

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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

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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. 

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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.

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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 www.julibd.com/staycreative 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

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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.

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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 hi@studio-zo.com 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

Where volunteers become tooligans

Where volunteers become tooligans 17

It’s Volunteers’ Week; a time to celebrate and say thank you to all volunteers around the UK, and here in the Edinburgh Tool Library (ETL) we didn’t want to miss this chance to share with everyone how amazing our volunteers are. Or as we like to call them, our Tooligans.

To get an idea of how much Tooligan power helps ETL, you should know that more than 2400 people have signed up as members since we started and more than 850 are currently active, borrowing a tool every 5 minutes we’re open. With just 40 regular Tooligans, commiting a few hours a week, with others joining the action as and when they are needed, the volunteer team is at the core of ETL activities and running. We are grateful for them every day of the year (although it is nice to have a special occasion to say it louder than usual!!!). Volunteers run the borrowing sessions, support members at the open workshops, repair tools, update the database, help with community builds and so many other things to help Edinburgh to make the most of its Tool Library.

On the team you can find women and men of all ages and walks of life. From those in their teenage years to those in their not-so-teenage years, locals, or people hailing from overseas, expert woodworkers, DIY fans or newbies who previously thought routers were only things that gave you the internet. Some have been volunteering since we opened,  showing their commitment to ETL and their shared values but also demonstrating that it is a valuable and enjoyable experience for them – they keep coming back! Many Tooligans are relatively new, but the number of volunteer submissions growing steadily is a sign that word of sharing is spreading and taking root in our community.

Over the last year the Tooligans have, amongst many other things:

  • Led the borrowing sessions at the depot and the police box in Leith
  • Supported members in over 100 open sessions at the Custom Lane workshop
  • Helped design and refit the Portobello workshop
  • Supported the running of Porty workshop and tool library twice a week
  • Taught and assisted in over 40 evening classes
  • Undertaken volunteer build weekends for the Piershill Residents Association and the Duddingston Conservation Society, building outdoor furniture, bird tables, potting sheds and vegetable shop!

But, why they do it? Many come to make new friends and to feel part of a community of like minded people with shared values, both social and environmental. Some enjoy the opportunity to learn new skills from fellow volunteers or members.  For some people volunteering is a window to connect with the world in a different way, allowing them to overcome their struggles with mental health through helping others. And there is always the act of sharing: sharing experiences, sharing knowledge, sharing spaces, sharing tools, sharing moments, sharing laughs and fun.

As for myself, I learned about ETL a year ago after deciding that I should give back to the community that has welcomed me.  I visited Volunteer Edinburgh, where they helped me to find the right place to start my volunteering journey. On my first meeting with ETL and hearing about the philosophy and values of the organisation, I knew I was already one of them, even if my experience with drills and hammers was quite limited at the time. And so my Tooligan story began. I know it is not going to be a short one!

Whatever the reason, every contribution is invaluable and without it ETL would not be possible. If you are around one of our locations this Volunteer’s Week, don’t forget to show your appreciation to our Tooligans. You can simply say thanks or leave a few words in the Volunteer Thanks Books that you will see appearing in our workshops and depot. Volunteers are essential to keep improving your community, helping you with your DIY, and keeping your Tool Library with its doors wide open for everyone.

Mariana Berdun
ETL Volunteer

A vision of sharing in Scotland

A vision of sharing in Scotland 18
Young Syrian refugees on the island of Samos in Greece, using donated ETL tools transported by Edinburgh Direct Aid.

There’s a lot happened at the Edinburgh Tool Library over the past couple years and thanks to our growing team, I am finally able to take a moment and get my thoughts together.

First and foremost, I am incredibly proud of what ETL has become, and is continuing to be. Three years ago, my spare room was full of tools, and I’d drag a big bag to the police box on Leith Walk once a week.

Today, we have: a staff team of six, two workshops in Leith and Portobello, and three other tool library spaces for tool repair, cataloguing and distribution. We recently completed a week of fourteen workshop classes, we run a volunteer build programme, a Tools for Life mentorship scheme for young people, the ‘Young Tooligans’ schools programme, a Creative Edinburgh nominated mobile bike kitchen and have an amazing team of over 40 volunteers.

These resources mean:

  • There are 750 hours of free workshop access
  • 1000 tools are available to borrow
  • 2100 members, of which 700 are active use ETL
  • We lend out a tool every 5 minutes we are open
  • We have completed 8000 tool loans
  • We have saved our members over £400,000
  • Our members carbon footprint has been reduced by 50t in the last 18 months
  • We provided 30 courses training people in a variety of different woodworking and DIY skills

 
For me, the mission of the Edinburgh Tool Library isn’t focused just on an environmental or community message. We can’t be pigeon-holed into offering one solution when we believe our offering is holistic and multi-faceted. We work with members of the general public, but we also have partnerships with groups that target particular disadvantaged groups. We work with other charities to address challenges our communities face, but also need to reach our own targets. We are Edinburgh based, but we also help people as far as the Greek refugee camps, and even Tanzania.

In addition to our day-to-day work, we feel strongly in challenging the government and funding bodies to support organisations who tackle many challenges, avoiding a single track approach. We know that tools are universal. Our mission at the Tool Library appeals to diverse groups of people from different backgrounds. That is why we are unique and so, so special.

We want to see a Scotland where sharing is a core value. We want our children and communities to embody the ethos that sharing is caring.

As the circular economy ‘butterfly’ diagram from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation shows, sharing is the optimal way of reducing environmental impact (on the diagram, the smaller the loop, the smaller the environmental impact). According to recent research (link), we have 12 years to get our act together to minimise catastrophic climate change yet we focus so much of our efforts on the widest loop in the circular economy.

We were pleased to see that the Scottish Government received recognition at the 2017 Davos World Economic Forum for its adoption of circular economy principles, but we want Scotland to keep pushing forward. Why are we so keen to fund recycling projects, when the best thing is not to create that waste in the first place? The focus should be on the tighter loops, of maintenance, sharing and reuse, which are areas led by community organisations, not large recycling firms.

We want to be part of a Scotland that supports smaller organisations to follow best practice to have the largest impact possible, and in that is the key. At the Circular Economy Hotspot conference, Janez Poticnik, Co-Chair of the UN Resource Panel, said that at a global level, there “should be a particular focus on the social aspects of circular economy processes (employment, inclusiveness, local benefits) which are crucial for better acceptance of the circular economy.”

This is exactly what ETL does – we benefit the community we are in, and people see the benefits – they are tangible. This then gives us a platform to talk about the relationship with the circular economy, and sustainable living.

A vision of sharing in Scotland 19
The ‘butterfly diagram’ of the Circular Economy, courtesy of the Ellen McArthur Foundation.

Edinburgh Tool Library is already making a difference. We are following the butterfly diagram from inside to out, and are researching ways in which we can refine our model so our tools can stay circulating for as long as possible, and we are continuing to expand our work to make a greater impact.

We have recently received a grant from NESTA and the Scottish government to bring sharing to other areas of Edinburgh, as part of a pilot study aiming to make sharing easier than shopping (pretty ambitious eh?!!!).  This is a collaboration with MyTurn, the US-based folks that administer our database, and that of around 250 other tool libraries across the world, and i-Puk, a German platform developer who have been working with German city councils on monitoring and project management tools to track waste reduction strategies. It’s a truly international collaboration. If we can demonstrate that a distribution network for our tools can work, then we can increase the scope to share more things, in more places. The hope is a platform where resources and services that do not need to be bought, are visible to everyone, and that the impact of this sharing can be recorded and reported with ease.

We want to continue to be at the forefront of the Scotland-wide sharing network so that community resources can benefit more people in a meaningful way across the country. This will not only increase opportunities for people all over Scotland to better themselves and the places in which they live, but save these communities money, and reduce their carbon footprint.

Scotland should be a place of access, not excess.

Tool libraries are a key to this access – access to resources can mean learning a new skill, or building something for your community, or it might be finding the confidence to start a new job after being supported by a local organisation you become involved with. Through the Edinburgh Tool Library we have seen these successes happen in our community.

With our growing organisation and our collaborations with NESTA and the Scottish government, we hope to develop the infrastructure for a national network of sharing organisations, so that people can benefit not just in Edinburgh, but right across Scotland.

Stay tuned. It’s going to be an exciting ride!

Chris

Connecting more people to the tools they need

Connecting more people to the tools they need 20

Introducing the Edinburgh Tool Network

We’re pleased to announce the launch of our new Portobello workshop, our next step in creating an Edinburgh Tool Network that will broaden our reach and accessibility across Edinburgh, and making it possible for more people to borrow and share our tools.

The launch of the workshop enables us to expand beyond our base in Leith and open a permanent Tool Library and woodworking workshop situated at the community co-working space, Tribe Porty on Windsor Place.

The impetus to create the space came after last year’s successful Tool Box program, a remote tool lending service that we located at Portobello Main Library. On the back of the positive response we received from the local community, we decided that the seaside neighbourhood offered the ideal location to build a second permanent base and start to create our Edinburgh Tool Network.

Portobello allows us to give even more people access to our tool lending service. It’s a space where people can develop their skills and start their own creative projects and adventures.

The Portobello workshop offers a bigger space than our site in Leith, but with all of the same benefits that has made Leith so successful. We are hoping that the Portobello workshop space will bring the community together, enable them to practice making and repairing, and create an informal educational platform to heighten awareness of climate change and how reuse, repair and the circular economy can make a positive impact and help reduce carbon emissions.

The Portobello workshop will host weekly guided sessions on basic woodworking, tool sharpening, and bike repair, working in collaboration with local partner organisations. It will also be an open space where members can work on their own DIY projects. We will encourage the use of reclaimed materials and introduce members to creative waste reduction and reuse ideas.

Tools on wheels – Introducing Eddy Van Haulin

Apart from expanding our permanent bases from one to two, we are also introducing a mobile element to our Network which will see us deliver mobile workshops from a fully fitted-out electric van – Eddy Van Haulin. The beauty of Eddy, is that it will allow us a greater outreach and the ability to further connect to communities that have less access to our resources.

2018 Mobile Pilot Project – The Young Tooligan Program

Finally, we’re pleased to announce that this year’s mobile workshop pilot project is the Young Tooligan Program, a series of workshops designed for young people, aged 12-17 years old. The workshops will focus on how we can build our way to a better future. Working together with High Schools and youth organisations, we will work with young people and get them involved in hands on making and discussions on how circular economy projects can have a positive impact on our lives.

To create the Edinburgh Tool Network we’ve been supported by a grant of £98,044 from the Scottish Government’s Climate Challenge Fund, and the grant includes a maximum contribution of £47,147 from the European Regional Development Fund.

The Climate Challenge Fund (CCF) is a Scottish Government grant programme, managed and administered by Keep Scotland Beautiful. Since its introduction in 2008, the CCF has awarded 1,097 grants totalling £101 million to 658 communities for a range projects covering energy efficiency, sustainable travel, local food, and resource efficiency.

Bench Mark

Bench Mark 21

We have a new addition to the tool library.  Something that has a practical use to us, but also has great personal significance to me.

It’s easy to think of tool donations as useful objects, given in aid of a good cause.  But what we often forget is that every one of these objects comes with a story.  Sometimes it’s a pretty straightforward one – someone bought a drill, used it once, needs the shelf space and so donates it.  Other times there is a whole history to the objects, with great significance and a story attached.

I’d like to tell you the story of our new wood working bench.  Let’s call our bench, Mark.  Mark was delivered into the Northumberland school system in the 1950s, and spent many years helping teachers demonstrate joinery and wood work to pupils at Amble Middle School.  Mark was a trusted companion and a reliable worker.  His only vice was at one end.

He helped boys and girls build stools, learn joints and complete assignments for over 40 years.  With the approaching end of the 20th century, and the advent of computers, traditional wood work became less of a priority in the curriculum, until one day, it was decided by faceless council bods  that Mark should be forced into early retirement.

Luckily for Mark, his boss, headteacher Alan Hellawell had seen him at work, and was aware of his potential for many more years of service.  Coincidentally Alan, my Dad, was also retiring that year, and offered to put him to work in his garage, saving him from the scrapheap.  Alan and Mark had twenty-four happy years tinkering away, helping each other learn, fix and bodge.

Two months ago, my Dad passed away suddenly.  It was a shock to all that knew him and a loss that affects us all still.  He instilled many of the values in me, that have formed the ethos of the tool library – helping others, supporting young people to better themselves, and always trying to make your community flourish at every step.  Without my Dad, the Edinburgh Tool Library wouldn’t be here.

As we were sorting through Dad’s things, we came across Mark – he’s hard to miss.  We knew there would be nothing that would make Dad happier and prouder than seeing his work bench, that had served him so well, help members and trainees of ETL to discover their potential, and hopefully get the same enjoyment from using it as he did.  It’s what tool libraries do – we give objects a new lease of life.

I am incredibly proud to help bench Mark write this new chapter, and happy that another part of my Dad’s legacy will continue to help people, as he did his whole life.

Chris

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?

Aye…!

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!