Tools For Solidarity Celebrates 15th Birthday

Tools for Solidarity in Downpatrick (TFS) are celebrating their 15th birthday.

On Saturday 18th May, TFS Downpatrick will celebrate its 15th birthday and you are very welcome to join in the celebration.

This ‘not-for-profit’ business is run totally by volunteers and the workshop on The Mall in Downpatrick has continued its work in collecting old and unused tools and refurbishing them along with sowing machines for Third World countries.

TFS manager Chris Vaughn left, with volunteers and founder member Stephen Wood, third right.

Supported volunteers are the heart of the TFS charity and their work helps them to improve their mental well-being through learning new skills, helping others and working in a supported social environment building confidence and self-esteem.

It all began in 2004 when the Downpatrick branch of Tools for Solidarity opened up and has gone on from strength to strength since.

Located opposite the Down County Museum, TFS workshop is a team of focused and devoted volunteers.

Stephen Wood, co-founder, spoke of the journey that TFS has gone through in getting to where it is today and said: “The Tools For Solidarity (TFS) Downpatrick Workshop was initially refurbished in 2003 with the help of Malcom, Tim, Tom and the volunteers from Belfast and Ecoseeds. In July that year officers were found to ensure the organisation was legally registered and operational, and from July to January the time was spent painting and decorating.

“It was a big task to put the building together because the premise was a former school which had not been touched for 15 years. This was a really special school because it was part of a social programme of the 18th century that provided housing and education to poor people. Thankfully this area is still used for the same purpose until the present day.

Long serving volunteer Trevor Barry at work in Tools for Solidarity in Downpatrick.

“The official opening of the Downpatrick workshop took place in January 2004. Even though the preparation for the room as a workroom was far from finished the potential was there to be seen. And we have come a long way ever since!

“In the beginning, the workshop was open three days a week but due to the requests from volunteers we decided keep it open four days a week (Monday to Thursday). Some volunteers stay for an hour, some others all day, depending on their time availability. The workshop is very popular and there is a waiting list for new volunteering opportunities.

“One of the core aims of TFS Downpatrick is to provide volunteer opportunities and social support to people with different kinds of disabilities, learning difficulties or mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, bipolar problems and paranoid schizophrenia.”

Stephen explained that was great need for such a project in Downpatrick at that time even though there were other organisations supporting people with mental health problems. Downpatrick had one of the largest psychiatric hospitals in Northern Ireland at the Downshire site, and when it closed it became necessary to continue to support these people. In this sense, the TFS Downpatrick has established over time several partnerships with organisations such as:

On Saturday 18th May, the workshop will open to the public from 11-3pm and everyone is welcome.

“The focus of the work in Downpatrick is more related to the needs of the volunteers. It’s given the opportunity to volunteers to learn new skills, to develop their potential and to carry out the same activity every week if that fit them best. The volunteers can work on different activities such as:

  • Sanding and varnishing
  • Repairing tools, such as drills, chisels, etc.
  • Repairing sewing machines
  • Refurbishing treadle bases for sewing machines
TFS in Downpatrick accepts donations of old tools and sowing machines.

“We have around 30 volunteers now and one full-time member of staff. We also work with a group of students with behavioural problems from the Ardmore School in Downpatrick who refurbish tools and treadle tops.

“There is little storage place in TFS Downpatrick therefore the tools and sewing machines are brought from Belfast and sent back there once they are refurbished.

“These tools and sewing machines that our volunteers refurbish have been sent to: Mwanza Sewing and Training Centre (MSTC) in TanzaniaWomen Rights Initiative (WORI) in Uganda BWALO Initiative in Malawi.

“Chris Vaughn has been managing the workshop as a core volunteer since 2009 and he is been doing an amazing job! The atmosphere is very homely and the place is spotless, tidy and warm! You have to visit both Belfast and Downpatrick to appreciate just how tidy the latter is!

“We are happy to receive any organisation or individual that is interested in working with us.

Stephen explained: “In Africa where we deliver our help, there are no mental health services. There is still huge stigma directed at sufferers, and basically they are cast aside in their society. So our Malawi project is about providing training too to help get people into employment and even set up their own small businesses. Hopefully through time that one of the outcomes of our project will be that Africans will recognise that there is a need to address these issues of mental ill health directly in their own society and set up structures for this.

“We work closely with the Scottish Tools for Solidarity and our tools go to the MACOHA ( the national association for people with disability in Malawi) and CODO (an organisation which helps to identify the people to receive our tools).

“There is electricity there in most places so the electric sowing machines we re-furbish are well used.”

Sowing machines waiting to be refurbished at TFS in Downpatrick.

TFS Downpatrick fixes tools and sewing machines and then ships them to partners countries like Tanzania or Malawi. The aim is to help others while raising awareness of climate change and sustainable development.

So on Saturday 18th May our volunteers will guide visitors through the workshop and explain how they fix tools and how they use them. You will also be able to learn more about the many projects of TFS in various countries. There will also be a short film presentation about our work in Malawi at 12-2pm.

Stephen said: “We will be selling gardening tools and other items to help raise funds for our work and we will also hold a raffle. Light refreshments will be provided. We hope to see you then.”