Give me a hammer and I shall change the world
Tools for Solidarity
Belfast | Northern Ireland
Tools for Solidarity headquarters are huge. They consist of a kitchen, a small office, a big warehouse, a workshop and endless hidden corners, covered with all sorts of tools. Tools come from private people, organisations like the Tool Library, building companies, all unwanted, many broken. Only on the day before our visit they collected 700 items. Here they will get a second life – after being checked and repaired they will be offered to people who need them more than those who prefer to buy new stuff. Some will go to local refugees or community gardens, the most will be sent overseas, to Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, where a set of tools or a sewing machine can literally change people's lives, providing working possibilities and sustainability. For this to happen there are few important conditions. First of all, Tools for Solidarity never sends things to places where good quality tools are available – they don't want to affect the local market, if there is one up and running. Secondly, they send only to organisations which know how to maintain tools. If needed, they go themselves, train local workers, teach them how to repair and maintain sewing machines and other tools, so they serve local people for the years to come. Together with locals they set up sewing machine furbishing and training centres. Machines and other tools are offered to the local community after they finish maintenance and business training or sold through local organisations, contributing to their financial sustainability and independence.
The adventure began in 1984 when Stephen, inspired by his brother John who had opened a Tools for Self Reliance branch in Cardiff the year before, launched the Belfast tool group, later to become Tools for Solidarity. They started with no money and quite limited know-how, using a building which was in a really bad stage: the floor was unsafe, so tools were all around the walls, as the centre would collapse. They didn't even know what many of the tools were for, it took a long time to gain knowledge and experience. Today their workshop in Belfast is open every day for anybody who wants to donate, but also repair their own tools or volunteer. Most volunteers there are international – every year, thanks to the European Solidarity Corp programme, 6 volunteers from various European countries come to contribute in many different ways – they repair tools, collect them, manage social media, provide educational programmes, go to schools and get involved in decision making. Now, because of Brexit, this opportunity will be over. Together with the volunteers, a big part of the organisation's income disappears. European funds, besides donations, profits from the repairing service and some money provided by a few patrons (for example Roger Waters from Pink Floyd... remember the hammers?!?), were the basic way to financial sustainability. Now, their income and volunteers contribution will have to come from more local sources, as it happens in Downpatrick, where in 2004 they opened a second chapter. They have around 30 local volunteers there, 80% of them with mental disabilities and challenges, being schizophrenia, autism, anxiety. Tools for Solidarity provides them space, lunch and the possibility to feel useful and see immediate effects of their work – dirty and broken tools become shiny and functional thanks to their own hands. During the pandemic they were often the only place their volunteers could come to.
Local work is as important for Tools for Solidarity as the one they contribute to in the Global South. That's the whole idea – you do something in your place but help people around the world. And you also have the potential to transform your own community, for example by educating people about the values which stand behind the organisation. And they are fairly different from those which seem to dominate our society. Neither Stephennor John care about money, getting the minimum amount for their basic needs. They move by bike, they eat vegetarian meals together with workers and volunteers, and they don't mind working 50 to 70 hours per week if needed. There is always something to do. Stephen is involved in many other actions, he is a Tools Library board member, he contributes to campaigns which promoted cycling opportunities in the city, he is part of a repair cafe. What matters for him are people, environment, nature, friendship, love, and solidarity. He calls himself anarchist. He believes we should build the society on people wanting to do things because they are inspired by them, not because they have no other choice to cover their material costs of living. And after many years he proves it's not only possible, but also worth it.
More about Tools for Solidarity: https://www.toolsforsolidarity.com/