Tools for success
"It brings prisoners together as a community working in a team. It is physical and creative and it produces results"
The Conservation Foundation’s Tools Shed project began life as a funding proposal for a government recycling campaign. The application was unsuccessful, but despite that the programme has run for over 10 years, bringing thousands of free garden hand tools to schools and community gardens and positive occupation for hundreds of prisoners.
Tools Shed is much more than just a simple recycling project. Whilst the community has benefited from the refurbished tools, prisoners of all kinds and prison staff have welcomed the constructive way the project provides work experience and job satisfaction. The tools are donated by the public, gardening clubs and local authority parks departments when they are no longer needed or in need of a little TLC. They’re collected at garden centres and council recycling depots and then delivered to prisons where they are sharpened, straightened and repaired before getting new handles and a coat of varnish or paint.
Then 'Tool Giveaways' are organised – often at the prison itself – where grateful school teachers, playgroup organisers, youth leaders, community workers and friends come to collect tools of all sorts, shapes and sizes.
The organisers have learned a lot over the years. The Conservation Foundation’s director David Shreeve says:
“Whilst we began describing the recycling qualities of the project, we soon realised that there was much more to Tools Shed. It has health benefits – both mental and physical - and educational. It brings prisoners together as a community working in a team. It is physical and creative and it produces results.
"I have been very moved by some of the letters we’ve received from prisoners for whom the project has proved really important. “It’s a reason to get up in the morning” is a frequent quote. Clearly doing something which links into the local community also means a lot.
“We should not underestimate the personal satisfaction of turning a broken, unwanted garden tool into a valued possession,” he continues. “Grateful teachers writing their thanks with the signatures of all the class or gardening club are frequently displayed in Tools Shed workshops. Neither should we underestimate the value of learning new skills and working in a team”.
Tools Shed is not a well-known prison project, often it involves just a small team, but over the years it has made a real difference to many prisoners’ time inside and at least one is known to have sent a donation with thanks for the help it gave him.
The Foundation has kept the project going with support from a number of trusts and foundations. At present, there are workshops at HMPs Wandsworth, Edinburgh and Dartmoor. There are plans to expand the scheme to other parts of the UK and the Foundation is also discussing partnerships with organisations involved in prisons.
As well as the permanent collection points, commercial garden centres hold ‘tool amnesties’ which bring in tools. A recent national, month-long campaign organised by Wyevale Garden Centres collected over 5000 tools – enough to keep plenty of prison workshops busy and to equip schools and community gardens all over the country next spring.