Old Tools, New Uses (OTNU)

In October 2011, we celebrated the completion of the ‘Old Tools, New Uses’ project at Summerlee Museum of Industrial Life, Coatbridge.   The network received a £25,000 grant from the Museums Association’s Effective Collections scheme (sponsored by Esmee Fairbairn) in 2009 to undertake a collections review, produce a learning resource and consider rationalisation and sustainability issues surrounding the collections. The project has surpassed its original ambitions and is now making public its achievements.

This project, called Old Tools, New Uses, aimed to identify the treasures and duplicates of tools and domestic technology in Scottish museums. Participants were able to learn the importance of items in their collections from our independent specialist advisor, have access to a schools resource and get the opportunity to dispose of duplicate items to artisan communities in Africa in partnership with the charity Tools for Self Reliance.

One of the most exciting parts of the project has been our partnership with Tools for Self Reliance. This has allowed the project to match items (sewing machines and tools) to projects led by TFSR in Africa, specifically in Sierra Leone and Tanzania, specifically:

1. Blacksmith’s Leg Vice.  Refurbished by volunteer at Netley Marsh – packed in kit no 0065.003 for Moyamba Training, Council of Churches of Sierra Leone. Despatched 9th June 2011. See www.tfsr.org – Group bulletin October 2011.

2. Ripsaw. Cleaned by Volunteer Ian at Netley Marsh Training Group (a supported workshop for adults with learning difficulties), sharpened by volunteer Malcolm at Netley Marsh main workshops, packed by students at Ringwood School during Fair Trade event, to be sent to Juhudi Carpentry Group in Kigoma, Tanzania. Kit no. 0077.001. Juhudi Carpenters is a group of 5 men, making beds, windows, chairs etc, and they will receive a kit of tools plus training.

3. Treadle sewing machine. Base refurbished by volunteer Simon, machine refurbished by volunteer Alan at Netley Marsh. To be included in kit 0077.022, next shipment to Tanzania.  Will be sent to Mahembe Tailoring Group of Kigoma, a group of 12 men and women, 8 of whom are trainees. They make school uniforms and other clothes for men and women, and will be receiving sewing machines and haberdashery,  plus training provided by SIDO (Small industries Development Organisation).

Another industrial sewing machine is about to be refurbished and allocated. In total, Tools for Self Reliance have received 38 objects from the collections. Some more will be matched to places in Africa where they will be useful, with the remainder being used to train volunteer staff. Another charity, Workaid, which also carries out refurbishment work on historic technology, has received 15 typewriters.

The project focused on looking at duplicate or unprovenanced collections of the following objects:

  • Woodworking tools
  • Blacksmiths’ or cobblers’ tools
  • Sewing machines
  • Typewriters

The project has achieved a number of other key objectives in terms of Scottish collections and education activity:

  • Production of a Master Catalogue of Scottish typewriters, sewing machines and domestic tools.
  • Production of Guidance Materials for future curators to undertake reviews of sewing machines and typewriters.
  • National Learning Resources for Schools via the Scottish Schools ‘GLOW’ network on working through such collections to understand their past and present use, to encourage enterprise, sustainability and innovation.
  • Model loan boxes for Scottish Museums to use as templates to produce (at low cost) experiences that can be used by local schools/families around project collections.
  • Collections Disposal to partner charities, Workaid and Tools for Self Reliance.

Jilly Burns, National Partnerships Manager at National Museums Scotland said: “National Museums Scotland considers the Old Tools, New Uses project an exemplar for the sector. The STICK network are to be congratulated for such an innovative project, which proves museums can do great things, with small funds, when they work together with imagination and in partnership.  This project has built professional confidence, widened knowledge of and engagement with historic collections and traditions and, perhaps most importantly, has used material culture to link communities and cultures internationally and across generations.”

Further information about the project can be found by following the OTNU links in the left hand menu bar.  There is information about the launch, workshops and resources related to the project.