What we do:
The Group was founded in 1992, operating in Coventry and Warwickshire. We collect hand tools, power tools and other equipment such as sewing machines, make them serviceable where necessary, and forward them to the Tools for Self Reliance national UK headquarters in Southampton for assembly into a variety of tool kits. The kits are then shipped to partner organisations in Africa, who deliver training programmes which equip people with the skills to use the tools, and to establish their own businesses. We also raise funds, for example, through tool sales or donations, which contribute to shipment and training programme costs.
We have a close working relationship with the charity we support (Tools for Self Reliance) and Voluntary Action Coventry, in addition to our partnerships with Bablake School, where we have access to workshop facilities, and St. Giles church, Exhall. We have an established Development and Management Group to guide our day-to-day work and to shape our priorities, and we hope to build a stronger presence in South and North Warwickshire for tool collections, storage and sales. We are developing a collection service for material, sewing, knitting and haberdashery items, also for shipment to Africa, and have started online advertising and a (very reasonably priced) blade sharpening service.
Meet the Group – Coventry and Warwickshire
This article was printed in the March 2022 edition of the “Group and Collector” Bulletin – which is a quarterly update sent by Tools for Self Reliance to its supporters nationwide. It provides some background and additional information about the activities of the Coventry Group.
The Coventry Group was started in 1992 by the late Arthur Astrop, a retired technical journalist. He was joined by seven volunteers, made up of retired engineers and staff from the Unit for the Development of Alternative Products (UDAP) at Coventry University, which provided the use of a workshop.
Although initially very active in getting tools prepared and sent to Africa, over the years the number of volunteers decreased, and activities diminished. However, in 2014 John Wetherby was appointed Chair of the group and began a recruitment drive, since when it has grown significantly.
The group now focuses on refurbishing tools that are low in stock at HQ and most needed – though members are active in other ways too, thanks to their broad range of volunteer roles and skills – including tool collection and refurbishment, haberdashery, Website/IT, admin, public speaking, publicity and fundraising.
The group’s fundraising has been particularly successful – raising thousands of pounds every year for the charity, largely through the sale of surplus tools and vintage/niche items, even during COVID lockdowns. Public sales have mostly taken place at weekend events and from John’s garage – however the group is now moving over to other sources of income, such as generating sales online, local events selling cakes and drinks, and tool sharpening services. Local churches and Rotary clubs have also made donations, and support directly through their links with the group, and talks delivered by its members.
The group actively recruits through a good relationship with Voluntary Action Coventry (VAC). Clifford Hill, the current Chair (though John is still an active member) came to the group through VAC following a referral through the ‘Accelerate’ programme, a free employment support service they deliver. The group also links in with other organisations wherever possible – such as the Heart of England Community Foundation, to explore opportunities to tackle mental health and social isolation amongst all age groups, using the platform of voluntary work to promote individuals’ self-worth.