A group of Tools for Solidarity volunteers and a PWCF representative outside of the Belfast workshop.

Tools for Solidarity

PWCF funded Tools for Solidarity to support people with disabilities and mental health issues, as well as refugees and asylum seekers, to learn new skills.

PWCF awarded Tools for Solidarity a grant towards the operation of their Supported Volunteer Programme. Tools for Solidarity collects unwanted hand tools and sewing machines from around Northern Ireland, and repairs and services them in their Belfast and Downpatrick workshops. The refurbished tools are then sent to projects in Africa, particularly the charity's partners in Tanzania and Malawi.

Women sewing using sewing machines at tables.

The work in Belfast is undertaken by volunteers, both local and intemational, including Supported Volunteers who are people from the community with physical disabilities, leaming difficulties or mental health issues. Whenever they are in the Workshop, the Supported Volunteers are given one-to-one support, mainly provided by international volunteers.

In 2018, Tools for Solidary also instigated a new part of the Supported Volunteer programme aimed at incomers to Northern Ireland - the Refugee and Asylum Seeker Programme (RASP). RASP consisted of three training courses, designed to provide skills for people adjusting to completely new circumstances as they built a life in Belfast.

Volunteers work on fixing a sewing machine.

Case Study

Tim is a tool volunteer at Downpatrick and lives in the village of Ballynahinch, Northem lreland. Tim studied engineering at university and worked for British Aerospace as a designer. In 1991, Tim became unwell, developing schizophrenia. He had to leave his job, lost his money and even contact with his family. For 4 years he was effectively homeless, finding casual work where he could on building sites.

When his father died Tim got back in contact with his mother, who helped him to seek treatment. Together they moved to Northem Ireland to start fresh, but the first few years were very hard for Tim who felt isolated and depressed. On World Mental Health Day in 2006 Trevor saw a leaflet about the tools workshop in Downpatrick and he started as a volunteer.

Volunteers fixing tools in the workshop.

Being a part of the tool workshop transformed Tim's life. "It definitely helps me. It helps my concentration. If I wasn't here, I would be sitting at home, just watching tv and listening to the radio. Coming here gives me a routine. I have leamt new skills. It's very friendly and welcoming and I have made loads of friends over the years. I am a lot more settled than I have ever been."

I didn't think I would have done so much. I had given up hope a bit. Now I can look back at recent history and see I have done something positive and that encourages me to keep going.

Trevor enjoys working to refurbish smoothing planes: "They are intricate. It is so satisfuing when you get the blade sharpened. There's a link to my previous work with tools. I like working with my hands - it's like occupational therapy and I am helping other people at the same time."

*Name has been changed