Tools For Solidarity charity back in action after Lockdown
Tools For Solidarity in Downpatrick is a hard-working charity driven by volunteers located at the old Southwell School building on English Street, writes David Boden.
During the Covid pandemic, many charities and voluntary groups felt a tremendous pressure to survive as their members were forced to stay at home.
The group is dedicated to refurbishing hand tools and non-electrical sewing machines which enable citizens of deprived regions such as Tanzania in Africa to earn a livelihood.
The organisation in Northern Ireland began in Belfast in 1984. Although a Downpatrick group was established in 2003 , they did not acquire a premises in the town until February 2004.
Stephen Wood, founder of the Downpatrick Tools for Solidarity and voluntary coordinator, said: “Many of the volunteers are affected by physical and mental health issues and they really benefit from the personal and social interaction. “
Stephen added: “When Covid emerged at the beginning of 2020, it had a very significt and and serious impact on what we were doing.
“When the first outbreak happened, the Belfast group had to shut for two months and Downpatrick had to close subsequently for four months until we had Covid-protection measures in place following risk assessements. When we were allowed to re-open, we did so with a reduced number of volunteers for safety.
“This in turn delayed the shipment of tools by several months to the projects we supported in projects in Tanzania. We had products which were scheduled to depart Ireland in June. The occurrence of Covid meant they were unable to be shipped until September of 2020.
“Volunteers are at the centre of what we do. Without volunteers it would be impossible to function. They are at the heart and soul of our Tools for Solidarity project.
“Sending a sewing machine to a worker in Africa is providing a means for someone to be able to create a living and support a family in very difficult conditions. To date we have sent hundreds and this has had some impact on the general area creating employment and wealth in a very basic economy.
“We also do our own fundraising. This year we received a small but generous donation from the Reverend Houston McKelvey (aka The Black Santa). His donation helped us to pay our rent. It’s difficult to avoid these key costs and every penny counts.
“We also rely on donations of timber which is increasingly expensive to buy. We use the timber to make wooden boxes that safely secure the tools and sewing machines we have restored and sent to Tanzania. “
In looking at future aspirations for Tools for Solidarity, Stephen said that “in Downpatrick we would like to receive funding from the South Eastern HSC Trust or a government department. This would help secure work placements in Downpatrick. It would also have a real and positive impact on the well-being of our Downpatrick-based volunteers. They are a great bunch and are committed to the project.”
What the volunteers said:
John: “The impact of Covid-19 slowed us right down as we were shut for a longtime. But gradually now we are returning to normal. “
Chris: “I always enjoy coming to Tools for Solidarity. It’s such worthwhile work. It just gives me a buzz that someone so far away is getting a chance to get their lives together with our help.”
Brendan: “I missed coming to Tools for Solidarity each week over the period of Lockdown. I enjoy the company and the craic there.”
Stephen: “Lockdown certainly affected me. I missed the interaction from all the volunteers as a result of having to isolate.”
All donations to Tools for Solidarity are very welcome.
Also, Tools for Solidarity is still looking for volunteers. If you could spare a couple of hours each week, contact Stephen Wood through the website as well as all the regular social media platforms: