Why a tool sharing library? What is it about tools that mean they make sense for something like this?
There’s a few different aspects to it. There’s the basic human thing about using tools to do something more efficiently or do something you couldn’t do without them – that creative impulse is something we all have. As human beings, we want to make things.
There’s also a huge psychological aspect, that sense of wellbeing, health and achievement related to making something. I think culturally we’re moving away from that. The culture in the West is more about consumption – owning and having things – rather than the sharing idea. The impulse is towards going and buying a product instead of thinking “how can I make it myself?”
Making is really therapeutic, and if you can give people to that process without it costing a fortune, then they benefit both from the tangible results, through their houses looking nicer, and also in terms of their mental wellbeing.
This sense of achievement that comes through learning by doing means it’s important that people have access to this stuff. One of the great things about the tool library is that a lot of times people come to borrow tools because they don’t know what they want to make or because they need a particular tool which they’d never normally have access to.
That’s the price part of it: the average UK household spends £110 on tools every year. We ask for an annual payment of £20, but if you’re unemployed or on a lower income, it’s pay-what-you-can.
We had an artist who used our tools to make a three piece suite of garden furniture out of old baths. She borrowed an angle grinder, which she’d never used before, and cut the sides off a bath to make a sofa.
How does the structure of the organisation work?
At the moment, I do most work, but I want to get to a stage where I’m making it more self-sustaining. We have five members on the board – a chairperson, a treasurer, a secretary, and we’ve just elected one of our members to act as a conduit for members’ interests.
Including the board there’s about 12 volunteers who help out on Saturdays. Other volunteers come out of the membership to help out when we partner with community groups. We worked with one recently who built a wiki-house – an open-source community house – and that project was done with the help of some of our volunteers, and our tools.
What’s a week in the life of the tool library like?
We’re mostly online. We hire a police box once a week on Saturday mornings, which is our pick-up and drop-off point. People can come in there to sign up and pay a membership fee – whatever you can afford. We explain the rules to them and then they get access to our online database. If, say, they want an angle grinder, they search for it and it shows up with however many we have, then they submit a request and I confirm it if nobody else has booked it. I’ll then bring it along to the police box on Saturday, all of which means we only need to bring the tools we need once a week.
“The tool library is an environmental passion but also a social passion. I want to prevent young unemployed people from falling through the cracks, by partnering them with people who can mentor them.”
Could others do what you do in Edinburgh? Is your model something that anyone can copy?
As a social enterprise we still need to bring money in so we have someone looking at fundraising and the model we use. I want to show that this model works, and if we get a lucky break it doesn’t mean that everyone will – so we need to prove it isn’t a fluke.
We’re the only tool library in the UK, and with that comes a lot of prestige and media, but if another one opens up in a different part of the country they may not won’t have this level of exposure, which might hinder their success. I want other people to adopt the model, but I want us to keep doing things first. We are developing a mentor-trainee employability scheme which we think is the first of its kind in the tool library world. We are then hoping to share this with other tool libraries, many of which are in North America.
There are about 80 in Canada and the USA – they all have different structures, different sizes, and capacities – from sheds to huge warehouses. What’s interesting is that they can adapt to wherever you are. They could even be built into new housing developments. If you’re building a new set of flats, does it make sense for everyone in that building to own a drill, or should you build in a cupboard so everyone can share one?
And you’re also involved in a lot of community projects, like Dads Rock.
Dads Rock is a charity which works to bring fathers closer to their children, through quality time and play. In the project where we partnered with them, the dads were young men who became fathers aged 15 or 16. Young men can have a lot of chaos in their lives, which means that relationships with their kids can suffer too. So with them we looked at making balance bikes – the idea was that it was something they would follow through on because they were building something for their kids.
A bike is a very common kid’s present – but this time their dad’s made it for them. Lots of the dads themed their bikes based on their kids’ interests – one made his kid a Harley-Davidson-style bike, others have been motorcross and minions-themed.
The project lasted for 8-10 weeks, and as time passed you could see them turning up every for every session, walking a bit taller. It became the reference point of their week – a real sense of time, order and focus. When the project ended they said they weren’t ready to finish – so they are now working to organise a residential weekend to make something to benefit the community they live in.
What I do worry about with short projects like these is what happens next.