Get tooled up: The Edinburgh Tool Library offering an innovative solution to buying tools

Purchasing tools for DIY projects can be a costly exercise, and in reality, how often do we actually use them?

An Edinburgh charity is offering the community an innovative and cost effective solution; tool libraries.

The premise of a tool library is exactly the same as your local library but with a stock of tools instead of books.

Members can check out shared tools to use when they need them, rather than purchasing their own set. In making tools available for the community to borrow, it is hoped to maximise the number of times each tool is used, reduce waste and make access to tools affordable for everyone.

Granted, the concept of a tool library is not a new one, the first wave emerged in Columbus, Berkeley and Seattle over 35 years ago. This blueprint has been adopted in many communities across North America but the idea has been relatively slow to take off on this side of the Atlantic, until now.

The concept for the Edinburgh Tool Library (ETL) – the UK’s first – came about after founder Chris Hellawell discovered the Toronto Tool Library, while living in the Canadian city a few years ago.

So impressed was he by the idea, Hellawell vowed to set something up and contact his local tool library when he got back to Scotland. Upon his return, he discovered “there wasn’t one in the UK – so I thought well, this doesn’t seem like too much of a mission to set one up and started the first.”

After a lot of hard work – collecting tools, chasing funding etc. – in March 2015 the UK’s first tool library opened in an old police box on Leith Walk, Edinburgh. Since then, the Edinburgh Tool Library has gone from operating out of an old police box to opening three locations, with over 550 members, 4,000 tools, employability programs and training for young people.

Hellawell is proud of their achievements and seen the project grow beyond tools, “it’s about building a community, welcoming in different aspects of the wider community and getting them to mix. Creating a space that everyone is welcome and everybody can learn about tools and learn from each other.”

As a charity, the Edinburgh Tool Library prefers an annual donation to a set membership fee, ensuring people of all incomes feel welcome. The suggested donation of £20 per year can be increased or decreased, or members can even provide their old or unused tools as part of their membership donation.

News of their success has spread far and wide. Since opening he has spoken to 30 to 40 people around the UK and Europe to offer advice and mentorship to individuals, groups and charities looking to replicate the Edinburgh model.

“We are trying to be a big brother to the these groups. We are helping a group in Glasgow at the moment and I think it’s very important. There is a big movement in North America and they were very open and supportive, and helped us massively to set up. It’s all about sharing, the principle of the entire thing is sharing. It is very important that I can put an arm around someone and wherever possible, give them a hand, offer some advice or have a chat. It is a nice model that is quite adaptable so it doesn’t only work for cities.”

The future of Edinburgh Tool Library looks bright as they continue to grow and explore avenues to expand their operations and programmes. Most recently they have received funding from The Climate Challenge Fund – a Scottish Government grant programme – to explore the use of the existing public library network to distribute tools. The project will begin with a pilot in the north of Edinburgh with the aim of increasing access across the city and allowing more people to take advantage of the service without having to travel too far.

Chris Hellawell and the rest of the Edinburgh Tool Library team are blazing a trail in with their project and endeavours; bringing people together, helping others, supporting young people to better themselves and trying to assist the community flourish at every step.

For more information on the Edinburgh Tool Library, check out their website.

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