Downpatrick

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The Tools For Solidarity (TFS) Downpatrick Workshop started to be refurbished in 2003 with the help of Malcom, Tim, Tom and the volunteers from Belfast and Ecoseeds. In July officers were found to ensure the organisation was legally registered and operational. 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.

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

Initially 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.

There was great relevance in developing a project like this in Downpatrick in the sense that there are a wide variety of organisations supporting people with mental health problems. Downpatrick had one of the largest psychiatric hospitals in Northern Ireland 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 some of these organizations such as:

Mindwise

Action Mental Health

Mencap

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

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 no 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 Tanzania

Women Rights Initiative (WORI) in Uganda

– BWALO Initiative in Malawi

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