Really Useful-Community

How to Set Up a Tool Library in Your Community

If the post about Chris and the Edinburgh Tool Library inspired you and got you wondering how you can set one up in your community, wonder no more!
Chris is back for the second part of our interview, and he shares his experiences of setting up a Tool Library.

1) Do you have any help running the Tool Library? And if so, who?! And how did you ‘recruit’ people to help?  

We have a board of trustees who help steer the tool library, and an operations team that deliver the service direct to our members.
At the moment, this is a team of 6 volunteers, but we are looking to expand and are currently recruiting a treasurer.
Our volunteers are a mixture of old friends and new. People who knew me before the tool library, and people who have found us, contacted us, and are now also friends.

2) How did you decide upon/find your venue? Are there are considerations that need to be taken into account when looking for a venue? I would imagine that somewhere you can leave the tools securely all the time even when you’re not there/the library isn’t open is ideal?  

Initially, our number one priority is letting people know who we are, and that we are here to help them.
We stumbled across an advert to lease an old police box on one of the main thoroughfares in Edinburgh, right next to a bus stop.

We now have a very visible presence every Saturday, and are only paying per hour, so the costs are very low.
Ideally we would have somewhere we can leave the tools all the time, but as the service is web-based and people book tools ahead of time, we know what we need to have there, and so only bring them with us. The rest stays at our mystery storage batcave.

3) How did you decide on your opening hours and days? Have you any plans to open for longer/more days as the project grows?

Our thoughts were that most people do their DIY projects on the weekend, so we picked Saturday mornings to give people a chance to get two full days on the weekend.
In the next wee while, we will experiment with additional hours, possibly a daytime period and one in the evening.

4) How have you funded the project? Have you been able to access any kind of grants or funding, or has it been a labour of love on your part?  

Initially we got a grant of £4000 from a Lloyds Bank/Bank of Scotland programme, run by the School of Social Entrepreneurs. As well as the grant, there are group sessions with 17 other entrepreneurs from across the region where we learn about a variety of things that will help establish our projects, and are encourage to reflect on how to maximise our impact. I would wholeheartedly recommend someone interested in establishing a social enterprise to look into the application process, there are several schools across the UK so you won’t be far from one.
As we are now open, we are generating funds through membership, and it should be enough to sustain us throughout the year and cover our bills if we maintain the same model.
If we want to expand, we will look at more grant funding.
At the moment, it is a labour of love for me personally, and I have recently resigned my paid job to further establish the tool library.

5) What kind of structure does the project have? Eg social enterprise; charity; sole trader business?

We are a SCIO – a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. It means we have charitable status, but only have to report to the charity regulator, not to companies house as well (like a ‘full’ charity).

6) How did you source the tools? And did you have a list of ‘must-haves’ or have you just started out with whatever you can get hold of?  

Getting tools has been no problem at all. So many people have been really generous. Individuals, charities and businesses have been consistently donating things to us.
We have just recently established a relationship with Toolstop, an online tool sales business, who contacted us and have donated lots of their stock that had not been sold.
If anyone is thinking about setting up something similar, don’t worry about getting tools!

7) Do people have to pay to use the Tool Library?  

People pay a £10 deposit and then a donation they can afford for a year’s membership. This can be anything from zero to £50 or they can donate the equivalent value in tools.
We don’t want money to be a factor in whether or not someone joins, but we do need it to pay bills, so we leave it up to them. Typically people pay around £20.

8) What is the procedure for people wanting to borrow tools? Do they need to make any financial contribution? Do you get them to fill out any forms? How long are they able to borrow tools for? Are there any specific Rules and Guidelines for users that you have found useful?  

When a new member joins it takes a few mins to sign them up.
They first have to read and sign the waiver form (if they break into a bank, dispose of a body, or hurt themselves with our tools then it is their responsibility), read and sign a copy of our member rules, and then sign up to the database. It’s all pretty straightforward stuff.
We then check some id to make sure they are who they say they are, and a recent bill to make sure they live where they say they live.
The most important rule with the tool library is that we want tools back.
If you steal a tool (which is really what borrowing and not bringing something back is) then bully for you, you have a new drill. Almost all our tools are donated so it’s no real skin off our nose. Unfortunately, you are then no longer a member and you no longer have access to the rest of the inventory. Who is the winner then?
Apart from that the other rules are exactly what you would expect from a library – late fees, grumpy letters if you forget to return stuff, tell us if something breaks.
Members have a week to borrow tools which can be extended if nobody has asked to borrow it the following week.

9) Do you worry that the tools might not be returned? And do you have any protocols in place to deal with this should it happen?

Tool libraries in North America report very low numbers of unreturned equipment, and I anticipate equally good behaviour in Edinburgh.
By being a membership organisation we are asking people to buy into the idea straight away, so there tend to be people using us who want to keep using us.

10) Do you have to have Public Liability Insurance? And insurance for the tools? And how easy was it to persuade an insurer to cover you for this kind of venture?!  

Surprisingly easy!
We went to a specific insurer who works with charities and social enterprises (Keegan and Pennykid) and got everything we need. We have insurance for the tools and public liability insurance for under £300 a year.

11) Did you have to do a million Risk Assesments?!  

No, not really. We have lots of volunteer policies and some risk assessments for particular tools, but that hasn’t been as odious as it could be.
In order to conform to health and safety and cover ourselves, we have also begun to upload instruction manuals and videos to the database as people borrow the different tools, as well as insisting they take the correct protective equipment with them when they borrow.

12) How have you promoted the Tool Library within your community?  

We have had posters up in the area promoting the tool library, been on the BBC Scotland on the news, as well as in local and national newspapers and television.

We have also used social media and the internet to our advantage with a blossoming facebook (The Edinburgh Tool Library) and twitter (@ETLChris) communities, and tried to engage with as many local groups and organisations as possible.

13) What advice would you have for anyone wanting to set up a Tool Library in their community?

I would say do it.
It’s the best thing I have done in my life, and although it’s a lot of work, it is great fun and a wonderful learning experience. I’d also say that if anyone is serious about it, then please get in touch.
I was able to do this because of the generosity of the open-source online community around tool libraries, and I am very willing to continue this trend and offer any help to other people who might be interested in doing something similar elsewhere in the country.

HUGE thanks to Chris for telling us all about his amazing project, and for so generously sharing so much information about what is involved in getting a Tool Library off the ground.
It’s certainly inspired me, and I hope it has inspired you too.
If you want to find out more, or get in touch with Chris, all the social media links for Edinburgh Tool Library are here:

Twitter: @ETLChris

Facebook: The Edinburgh Tool Library

Instagram: the_edinburgh_tool_library

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