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Tools For Self Reliance

Dom Marsh and his girlfriend Nanda cycled into a Welsh town and found an unexpected treasure trove

12 Permaculture Magazine No. 63

At first glance, the Powys town of Crickhowell caters mainly for the Brecon Beacons tourist trade and local army personnel (‘Discounts for soldiers!’ painted outside the offlicence). But in amongst the takeaways and pubs, having cycled from north Pembrokeshire en route to Abergavenny, my girlfriend Nanda and I were surprised to discover a fantastic project based in an unassuming yard near the town centre: the Welsh branch of Tools for Self-Reliance.

After seeing the sign and wobbling into the yard to find out what was going on, we were treated to an extensive tour of the site from the workshop co-ordinator Peter Davies (despite the somewhat wild aromas emanating from our semicomposted bodies after three days of cycling and wild camping over 10 miles) – and what a pleasure it was to stumble across such an inspiring organisation.

© Simon de Trey White

TFSR Tools for Self Reliance (TFSR) restores old tools and redistributes them to communities in six African countries. Much of the work is done by volunteers referred by a local mental health institution, helping them develop skills and confidence.

It focuses on carpentry, metalworking and building tools, and sewing machines; these areas are most likely to help the recipients earn a living, make best use of their skills and teach others. Some tools are also sent back to the UK from Africa for sale here so that the flow of skills goes both ways – the project is about far more than just handouts.

Donated tools that are not requested by the African communities are refurbished www.permaculture.co.uk and sold locally at a very reasonable price, which provides a valuable service for local gardeners and farmers, and gives the project extra income. The tools come from a variety of sources: sometimes farmers upgrading their workshops, or people who have inherited a garageload of rusty tools from a relative that they can have little use for.

As those of us who rely on land-based livelihoods are aware, therein lives an extensive treasure trove of useful yet underused tools that, with a little love, can be extremely useful. Furthermore, as anyone who’s bought a cheap slasher recently will testify, they simply don’t make ’em like they used to. In my experience, unless you’ve got a lot of money to spend, the majority of modern tools fall apart often after just hours of use, whilst at TFSR we saw Victorian forks which appeared untainted by well over a century of digging. The ‘Yields’ Thus TFSR serves multiple functions, which in permaculture terms, we could break down into different ‘yields’ of the project:

◗ Assisting impoverished communities in the majority of the world to boost their own self-reliance.

◗ Helping its volunteers develop practical skills and build self esteem.

◗ Providing good quality tools to its paying customers at reasonable prices.

◗ Helping people clear out old tools they aren’t using.

◗ Providing socially useful employment for its paid employees.

◗ Assisting and educating eccentric drop-in cyclists (such as the author).

For all these yields, the project also follows the permaculture principles of using and valuing renewable resources, and producing no waste; as it takes unwanted items and refurbishes them, bringing them back into the cycle where they are needed most.

After our tour, we explored the shop, salivating like the proverbial children in a sweet shop, and decided to treat ourselves to some bargain vintage tools; thank goodness we only had six miles to go, as I don’t think we could have pedalled much further, bikes piled high as they were with two axes, a sickle, a trowel, a fork, a two man saw and five-foot slasher

Resources

TFSR Cymru: www.tfsrcymru.org.uk National TFSR: www.tfsr.org.uk

© Dom Marsh

Far left: Many of the restored tools are re-used in Africa.

Above & below: A new lease of life for these lovely old tools.

Right: The author’s tool laden bikes make it back home. © Nanda van Vliet

Dom Marsh worked for the Permaculture Association for three years before leaving the office to get more hands-on experience, including helping to run the thriving Leeds Permaculture Network, several community garden projects and the Common Place social centre.

Nanda van Vliet recently graduated in Environmental Sustainability and now spends most of her time growing veg, in between holding workshops on practical sustainability and helping run a community café.

They are both members of the Cornerstone Housing Co-operative in Leeds, which is a model of edible landscaping and sustainable urban housing.

© Dom Marsh www.permaculture.co.uk

No. 6313Permaculture Magazine