Remember the A-Team? The 1980s kids show had a familiar formula: innocent villagers fall prey to bad guys, A-Team show up all confident, get into trouble, retreat to a garage, make a tank, overcome bad guys, job done. As adults, home improvement work can follow a similar formula, just without the A-Team: innocent couple take on manual job all confident, get into trouble, retreat to manuals, give up and learn to live under the tyranny of bad DIY. They can bring in mercenary handymen, but they are not often square-jawed ex-army commandos. No, the real A-Team were tough to find. But when you did, it was the real deal. The real A-Team of DIY are tool libraries.
Tool libraries rock. They spend a fortune buying top quality gear and lend it to urban villagers almost for free. Training comes with a smile and soon we are trainee commandos. Villagers sign up. Waiting lists grow. Open hours are a hive of activity not dissimilar to the feel-good scene when the A-Team make a hovercraft out of wood panels and curtains. The big problem is that, just like the A-Team, tool libraries are hard to find. Why? Because they struggled to get government backing.
Take Tournevie, a sterling set-up started by a bunch of guys in Brussels. The B-Team. These are revolutionary citizens with cigars in mouth and Marx underarm, sick of crappy tools and commerce over community. They gathered more than €40,000 worth of pro quality tools so that the Brussels city folks didn’t have to. They were soon heroes. And then the government kind of pulled the plug.
Well, not shut down so much as threw them out of their subsidised space. And they quickly found a new, albeit temporary, space backed by another government body. But the point is that A-Teams need government, but governments neglect A-Teams. Yet look how darn good they are! Look how much less the villagers have to spend buying tools and how much more they can spend on Spotify Premium, avocado toast and cappuccino! Or on pensions, a house deposit or professional training, the kind of things we are meant to save for. They make people richer and help save the planet. So come on councillors, give tool libraries a break!
Tournevie co-founder Olivier Beys put it better: “Governments need to do more than simply provide investor security by securing contracts, public order etc. They should also provide security for citizen initiatives, enabling them to experiment and take action. The societal return on investment is huge. Towns where people feel empowered, where there is trust in one another and where its people are a partner, not just a beneficiary of the government, simply have more potential to thrive beyond mere financial prosperity than those where this trust and partnerships are lacking.
“They should make available Triple A locations: attractive, accessible and affordable places.. Ideally you’d have one in each neighbourhood or village, and several hubs in a territory.”