Downpatrick Workshop of Tools For Solidarity (TFS) has a fascinating history. In 2003 we were lucky to get a building in Downpatrick as our additional workshop. 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. The school itself was quite special because it was a part of a social programme back in the 18th century that provided housing and education to poor people.
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 and everyone could see it. We have come a long way ever since!
Initially the workshop was open three days a week but due to the amount of requests to volunteer we decided to keep it open four days a week (Monday to Thursday). Some volunteers stay for an hour, some for the full day, it all depends on their availability. The workshop ended up pretty popular in the area, so we even have a waiting list for new volunteers.
One of the core aims of TFS Downpatrick is to provide opportunities and social support to people with different kinds of disabilities, learning difficulties or mental health problems.
There was a great relevance in developing the project in a 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. That is why workshop in Downpatrick has established several partnerships with some of these organisations over time:
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 doing an amazing job! The work atmosphere is 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!
We are happy to receive any organisation or individual that is interested in working with us.