The Story So Far: A Tale of Tool Cities

By Chris Hellawell

The story of the Edinburgh Tool Library began in the summer of 2013, when I was visited by a friend from Toronto. While chatting about social enterprise, she told me about a her home town’s new tool library, which lent out equipment to it’s members. I thought this was a great idea and made so much sense, so I started looking into it. Emails were exchanged with the Toronto Tool Library and arrangements were made for my return visit to Toronto the following October.

After a few days catching up with friends, sports and hostelries I hadn’t seen in a long time, I popped in to the Toronto Tool Library to meet Ryan Dyment, who was running the show that day, and one of the driving forces behind the project. I had a great afternoon, learning about how everything worked, the challenges I could expect, and picking up all sorts of advice. Ryan was a goldmine of info, but what I was really struck by on my visit was an encounter with another visitor.


While I was at TTL, a young man, let’s call him Phillippe (Phillippe Albert is my all-time favourite footballer). Phillippe was having a tough time of it. He was homeless, living on friends sofas, and skint. He was probably around the same age as me (30s… ahem!) and I guess I could see something of myself in him. Maybe if I zigged instead of zagging at some point, I could be in a similar position as him.

To his credit, Phil (we are getting to know him by now) had gotten himself a job as a roofer, and was starting the following Monday. What he didn’t have was tools or money, meaning he needed to get his hands on a hammer, stanley knife, and tool belt if he was going to be able to do the job. Ryan ran through the set up at TTL with Phil and let him borrow what he needed, setting him up as a temporary member. Once Phil had earned a wage packed he could join as member. The difference this made to him was huge, and he wasn’t far from tears. What it showed me, was how something as simple as a tool library can make to one individual. Giving people access to equipment, means handing them the potential to better their environment and potentially their lives. Whether that be clearing up your garden, putting up a few pictures, or giving you a chance of holding down a job, they are all of benefit. Before I visited Toronto, I understood the environmental argument for sharing resources, on leaving, I understood the human argument.

My trip to the land of pucks, poutine and politeness had left me convinced that a tool library could work in the UK, so I set out establishing a board of trustees, and applying for charitable status with the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR). This took longer than I had hoped, but after a long, drawn out battle, we managed to argue our case successfully, and on October the 14th 2014, we were given charitable status. We built up our tool inventory through donations from individuals, organisations and charities and ramped up public interest in the idea. We did lots of media engagement, appearing on BBC Reporting Scotland, STV Edinburgh, BBC Radio Scotland, in The Herald, The Scotsman, and the Edinburgh Evening News, as well as on a variety of blogs and online articles. On March 7th, 2015, the UK’s first tool library opened in an old police box on Leith Walk.


What next?

At time of writing (3 months after opening) we have about a dozen volunteers, over 500 tools, 80 members, and have lent out over 150 tools, but we aren’t done yet! The tool lending side of the project is established and blossoming, but we want to move to phase two of the project.

The next step for us is to help people like Phillippe in Toronto. We want to provide opportunities for young unemployed people who are interested in working in the trades industry. We want to do this by providing support and mentorship in a workshop environment. Our young ‘trainees’ will learn about tools, maintenance, cataloguing, customer service and will demonstrate tools to our members, under the supervision of retired trades people, or ‘mentors’. We are working with Generations Working Together to develop this side of the project, and are looking to secure funding to develop the idea further, giving our members space to learn, collaborate and utilise, helping our trainees discover and develop skills, before moving on to employment, and using the skills of our mentors, showing them that our community values their knowledge and experience.

It’s been an adventure so far, but there are more people who can benefit, and a bigger change we can make to the communities we live in. If you feel you want to be part of this, or want to help us achieve our goals, please get in touch.

So you are now saying to yourself  “This sounds brilliant, but how do I become a member and how does it all work?”

Well, we are glad you asked!

As a charity, we are here to help our members, not rip them off.  Accordingly, when people want to join, we ask for a donation.  This might come in the form of money, or you might have some tools you don’t use.  We gladly accept either (or both).  We want you to be a member, so you set the level of donation, not us.

If you really don’t know what to give, come and talk to us and we will give you a rough idea (usually from £0 – £50).  When you come along to join up, bring some photo ID and a recent important letter with your current address on.  We also ask everyone for a £10 deposit when they join, refundable should you ever leave the tool library (though we are sure you won’t want to!).

Once you are a member, you get access to our online catalogue.  There you can reserve items and then pick them up the following Saturday.  All items are loaned for a week and should be dropped off the next Saturday.