Supported Volunteer Programme

Working with people with fewer opportunities has always been one of Tools for Solidarity’s (TFS) main aims. The will to put this aim into practice grew stronger when Stephen Wood visited the Garvald Factory in 1988, which a group based in Edinburgh developed by an organization called Tools For Self Reliance (TFSR). In this group volunteers with autism and down syndrome refurbished rusted and damaged tools that would later be sent to African countries. Stephen was inspired by seeing the satisfaction of volunteers when they noticed the impact their work had in the lives of others.

TFS started working with supported volunteers in 1992 when we moved to the workshop on Crumlin Road, Belfast. Before the move, TFS was held in a garage and there were not sufficent access for people with disabilities.

Thereafter TFS could develop one of its core aims which is:

  • To provide opportunities for people in NI to participate in worthwhile and valuable work. TFS is particularly committed to working with all sections of the community and to focus on providing sheltered placements for people with special needs and those normally excluded from being able to contribute to society in a positive way.

To make this possible, TFS over time has been creating partnerships with Belfast organisations that support people with disabilities or fewer opportunities.

Some of the organisations that have been working with TFS are:

  • New Horizons
  • Cedar Foundation
  • Orchasdville
  • A.M.H
  • Headways

Previously we also had a partnership with NICRA (Northern Ireland Community of Refugees & Asylum) in which we had volunteers from different ethnic minorities.

A supported volunteer is someone who may require extra help in terms of individual and social needs. They may be in the situation of having:

  • Physical disability (such as loss of sight or restriction in movement)
  • Mental health issues
  • Brain injuries resulting from a head trauma
  • Being unemployed or a being from an ethnic minority

Before any one is offered a place in TFS they must first visit the workshop. During this visit the type of work that the volunteer will do will be discussed, and it also gives each person the chance to see if TFS is the best place for them.

Larry working on a gift

The work for supported volunteers will depend on their ability, preference and the ongoing work needed by TFS. The type of work that people can do is:

  • Sanding and varnishing
  • Repairing tools, such as drills, chisels, etc.
  • Building boxes
  • Repairing sewing machines
  • Refurbishing treadle bases for sewing machines

The training and support given to the volunteers helps them to develop practical skills and confidence. The skills learned by our volunteers improve their quality of life and enable them to be more self sufficient and confident in their daily lives. The volunteers are inspired by seeing how their work benefits people in different situations living in some of the poorest countries in the world. A number of our volunteers have no other options to be involved in worthwhile work in a social setting. In short, working with TFS allows them to fulfill their potential and motivates them to overcome their challenges.

In the words of one of our supported volunteers:

Being a volunteer in TFS gives me the satisfaction to do something and repair tools and sewing machines because I’m very good with my hands


On the other hand TFS also provides a supportive and social environment where these people can mix and interact with one another.

As Liam says, “Working for Tools for solidarity gave me joy to help somebody else. It gave also the joy to meet people from different countries.”

Liam painting a treadle

Almost every day international volunteers are working with supported volunteers. This is an experience of sharing and of mutual learning:

Working with the supported volunteers is an amazing experience! It is human enriching, for the new relationships you find, but it’s also an occasion to grow up and improve oneself; it’s a reciprocal exchange: you teach something to them, but mostly you learn a lot from every supported volunteer!

Giulia (From Italy)

TFS operates its own workshop and help support TFS Downpatrick (a group staffed entirely by people with special; support needs) in offering people the opportunity to come in and help:

  • The Belfast workshop – work is mainly focused on organising the shipments to Tanzania. This will entail making boxes, refurbishing some tools and sewing machine repair work.

  • The Downpatrick workshop – volunteers work sanding, cleaning and sharpening tools.

  • TFS also has a support group in Mourne Grange Camphill Community. They clean tools and refurbish a small range of tools which greatly benefit the organisation.

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

Contact us!