We are very proud to finally share our brand new ETL manifesto with you; a joint effort between ETL’s volunteers and staff. We’re delighted with the end result, but even prouder of the journey we went on to get there.
In the last 9 months volunteers and staff have come together over zooms to discuss and write down a clear and concise idea of what we believe in, what our intentions are, our visions for the future and our guiding principles on how we operate in the library, our workshops, and with communities.
Very early on it was decided that the criteria of success for this manifesto wasn’t solely guided by the end result but by the idea that there should be room for plenty of feedback rounds and that wherever in the journey of creation everyone could join in and participate in sharing their thoughts and opinions. The plurality of voices tapping from their different experiences at the Tool Library is what shines through.
After two draft versions in which we dissected each point to its core we got offered some polishing help from copywriter Bob Murison, who turned our thoughts and voices into beautifully crafted sentences.
Then we work together with Studio Zo, who was able to take it to the next level and create this beautiful statement!
Next step in this manifesto journey is to share it and make it our flagship. If what we are about chimes with you, then you probably have the Tooligan spirit too! Get involved!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Here to inspire you: the 10 best sustainable gifting ideas of the Tooligan community! At the Tool Library we champion creative ideas that reuse old materials, that encourage a culture of sharing experiences and one that brings smiles on everyone’s faces. Giving something special doesn’t have to cost you much, and when gifting something unique and sustainable you can be sure that your loved ones will enjoy and remember your gifts for years to come, cherishing them the way gifts used to be.
1. Gift some greenery
Seeds, seedlings or plants brighten up every home and on top of this, are incredible air cleaners
2. A Race Entry
The perfect gift for all the runners and cyclists in your life! And it gives them something to look forward to – we all need it!
3. A Gift voucher for a tattoo
It’s a gift for life! There are many talented tattoo artists + you can even ask for a Tool Library design.
4. ETL membership (or classes)
Tool Library membership make excellent gifts! Who doesn’t want to get +1000 tools and two workshop spaces in their stockings. Buy an ETL gift card today.
5. Adopt a Tool
Make sure the Edinburgh Tool Library keeps inspiring people and communities around Scotland and the rest of the world, to build a cleaner, healthier and shared future. Adopt one of our little friends today for someone who shares our passion.
6. The Gift of Knowledge
The perfect gift can be found at the other beloved libraries in our community, borrow a curated selection of books on a theme that you know the person will love.
7. Gift your Recipes
Even though we can’t dine together (2020 lockdown), we can still enjoy those delicious meals by giving our loved ones the recipes. Unleash your inner calligraphist and make beautiful cards to inspire their future cooking. Or you could weigh out the dry ingredients and layer them up in an old jam jar, tie the recipe to the jar and mention which ingredients they will need to add.
8. Gift something handmade
Get crafty with some scrap fabric you have in your home and make something simple but useful like scrunchies or reusable make-up remover pads. Youtube has a library of instruction videos to help you along the way.
9. Gift a playlist
Give the gift of a Boogie Wonderland by curating a personalised playlist, CD or tape!
10. Support small business, artists & makers
This holiday season, support your local small businesses when you buy your gifts! Give a selection of locally brewed beer or your loved one’s tipple of choice or something unique made by local artists and makers.
Did you know the UK spends a combined total of around £700 million on unwanted presents each year? *
So our final tip when looking for the perfect gift, is to just ask your loved ones what they really want and need. The waste that is created from unwanted presents makes an incredible impact on our environment each year, that with a small step like this we could make such a difference this holiday season!
The end of October marks the end of our collaboration with Edinburgh Mask Makers, and we will be collecting in the collection boxes in Leith, Newington and Granton. It’s prompted me to reflect on the project, and think about the amazing things achieved in the darkest of times.
March 2020 saw The Edinburgh Tool Library turn 5 years old, and in that time we have seen how important it has been in changing the lives of so many people. Watching self-confidence blossom in young people, seeing the transformation we make with a community build, or hearing about a member’s home transformation. We had changed lives, but we had never saved lives.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, we started by shutting down our services early – we love sharing, but were very aware that Covid19 is not the sort of thing we wanted to be distributing throughout our community.
We delivered our workshop dust masks to the Gilmerton Care Home, who had no PPE. It felt wonderful to have helped, and we got a lovely thank you card in the post. But we wanted to do more, and didn’t know where to focus our efforts.
And then we found out about the Edinburgh Mask Makers (EMM)…
This group of community-minded people had self-organised through Facebook, and had a ready-made production line established where materials supplied (free) by the West End Tailors were sent out to sewers across the central belt, who would pledge a number of masks they would make by a certain date, and then return them either to a drop off box, or in the post. When ETL got involved it was initially because their drop off location had been broken into and all the masks stolen, so initially we offered to build some secure boxes for storage and collection. We found places to host the boxes, then set up a collection routine and used our Portobello workshop as a place to count and sort the masks, and where volunteer drivers could pick them up for redistribution. The EMM sent us a list twice a week of who was picking up what for which organisation, and we were in business!
What I really loved about the mask makers group is that it was a beautiful example of organic, grass roots community action. Here were a group of amazing people, who weren’t satisfied with just doing their bit by staying home, they wanted to help those people who had to go to work – because they were the very key workers that were on the front line. It was like watching the blossoming of a cottage industry, and because everyone was based at home, it meant volunteering was completely inclusive, and that people who might not be able to volunteer under normal circumstances got to enjoy the amazing buzz that it gives you.
Over the weeks and months, we met people from all across central Scotland who were doing amazing things to keep people safe. We had pickups from 86 different organisations, ranging from Turning Point to NHS Lothian, Empty Kitchens Full Hearts to the Red Cross. All in all 12,613 masks were made by the 1000+ members of the Edinburgh Mask Makers network, and distributed right across the country by a team of amazing volunteer drivers.
I want to take this opportunity to salute the amazing admins at EMM – Rosie, Magda, Dhouha and Martha, The Hunter Foundation for funding to help support the running of the project, the generous folks who lent or donated machines, our amazing ETL Tooligans who helped coordinate the distribution and of course the wonderful sewers of Edinburgh, who stepped up when they were needed, with fire in their bellies and sparks flying from their sewing machines.
Because of all of your hard work, time and sacrifice there are a lot of people who have not experienced first hand the horrors of Covid19.
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!).
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!
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.
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 firstchat 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!).
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.
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.
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….’
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
Asresidents 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.
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.
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.