John & Stephen

On the left, John, and on the right, Stephen. The Wood brothers

There are two core volunteers in TFS Belfast: the magical Wood Brothers John and Stephen! Without them, Tools For Solidarity wouldn’t exist.

John Wood, Belfast

When did you first start Tools for Solidarity?

Tools for Solidarity came into being in 1992 when 4 people sat down in a friends house and discussed establishing an independent tools organisation. Before this, we were part of Tools For Self Reliance (TFSR), located in Southampton.

We first started doing tools in Belfast in 1984 by collecting them for another local organisation. Over the next 8 years, we refurbished tools, held many international work camps and started sending tools to projects independent of TFSR.

Why tools and not something else?

If you think about it, without tools we could not make or repair most items that we see around us. Water could not be delivered to our homes/villages, buildings could not be made and food could not be cultivated. It is the one thing that has allowed human beings to develop and progress. The choices we make are a different issue but tools enable us to do things.

How did you come up with this name?

Establishing an independent organisation was easier than picking the name. At the time there was a lot of discussions and I can remember that the use of Solidarity was in the news in regards to the Polish Trade Union Movement.

Why the name was chosen and why it remains an important part of the organisation? It states that we won’t provide the resources to develop together but that we are together will try to improve and develop a better way of living.

What did you do before committing yourself to Tools?

I was re-assessing what I wanted to do. While doing tools, which was only for one day a week, I decided I wanted to work in the area of water provision. This I pursued and then worked for a total of 4 years on water projects in 2 overseas countries.

Do you ever think about changing life completely?

It has never crossed my mind. Before Tools For Solidarity, I was working in a field where you provide water to people in villages. I really enjoyed it! However you cannot do all things at once, so you have to make a choice.

Working in tools is very much the type of development that I needed back then. I think in the last decade we have achieved a lot and still have plenty of new possibilities.

Stephen Wood, Belfast

When did you first start Tools for Solidarity?

One of the key inspirations for starting Tools for Solidarity was a visit I made to the Garvald Factory in Edinburgh. It was amazing to see their workshop and meet volunteers with extra support needs.

It was obvious from the start that the volunteers had a real sense of pride in their work and could speak with joy about how they were helping people in Africa to have a better life. At the time (1988) we were not working with supported volunteers in Belfast.

In 1991 we decided to explore the possibility of opening up a workshop full time and to incorporate a supported volunteer programme. The original intention was to raise funds to employ 3 members of staff but still be a part of Tools for Self Reliance.

However as we have never done it before and knew nothing about fundraising, we decided to contact Glyn Roberts – founder of Tools For Self Reliance. We met with Glyn in 1992 at the annual Tools For Self Reliance gathering. And to our surprise, he mentioned that we should set up an independent organisation from TFSR.

We had not considered this option but he argued that since we had run our group without any real support from TFSR it would be better if we were a separate organisation.

Tools for Solidarity became independent in 1992. However, to this day TFSR still counts us as a local group of theirs despite many complaints from me.

Why tools and not something else?

I got started in tools because I was very frustrated, angry and dis-empowered through learning about ‘development’ and social global injustice. What could I do to change all this? Then someone told me about TFSR and I immediately found something that I could do at home. It also encompassed what I believed in and was working in a direction I could support completely.

“A continent can only develop when basic tools are readily available to the majority of the people. Tools should not be seen as a technology of the past, but for what they are the most appropriate technology for most working people on earth. Tools remain, the cost for cost, one of the most environmentally-friendly, the least wasteful, the least polluting, the most versatile, the most job-creating and the most power-sharing politically and as such they are a key technology for the future”.

Tools for self-reliance, UN Conference on Environment and Development

How did you come up with this name?

Solidarity is a sharing in problems that we face and realising that we must all be part of the solution. John mentioned the Polish Trade Union. I suggested the name despite this connection not because of it. Solidarity was not a word in common use back then but reflected the values I dearly hold on to.

There was a real division in the group about the name but it was agreed on a vote. I used the name first in Berlin where I started a group in 1990 Werkzeug Zur Solidaritat.

What did you do before committing yourself to Tools?

It’s hard to remember when exactly I committed myself to Tools for Solidarity. We had a meeting to discuss whether we would accept the money we had got from the founders. It was about 25% of what we had asked. If we accepted then we would have to run the organisation with volunteers (rather than paid staff).

At the meeting, I was the only person who said they would give a 3-year commitment. John was in Africa – that was in 1993! I was involved in all sorts of different groups and campaigns around volunteers. International Voluntarily Service, cycling – the campaign for cyclists rights in Belfast, local planning etc. After I came back from living in Berlin (1991) I had the idea to see if we could open a full-time workshop.

Do you ever think about changing life completely?

I took a real break from Tools for Solidarity in 2000 when I went to Scotland to live with my partner and her son – though I did start a tools group there in the same year.

During this period I also suffered quite badly from depression. This has had a major impact on my ability to cope with the stresses and strains that come with working with TFS.

Don’t get me wrong but it’s hard to work in the same place for a good half of your life. So I thought about other avenues of life I would love to walk down but I know that whatever I do the values would remain the same. I have also thought that it would be great to let others run Tools for Solidarity to see how they could develop it and what new ideas and paths they would find. One day.