Tools Shed: The Preston scheme giving children the tools to create a greener world

Mawdesley St Peter's CoE Primary School with their tools from Tools Shed.
Mawdesley St Peter's CoE Primary School with their tools from Tools Shed.
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We all have the odd rusty spade or trowel, that rotting garden rake at the back of the shed. Thankfully, a new community initiative run by The Conservation Foundation is offering those tools a new lease of life. And while they're at it, they're also supporting local primary schools and environmental groups, and are even aiding the rehabilitation of prisoners.


This is Tools Shed.

Tools Shed refurbished tools from HMP Garth.

Tools Shed refurbished tools from HMP Garth.

A budding recycling project which aims to equip schools and community groups with old tools which have been donated by the public and then refurbished by prisoners looking to enhance their practical skills, Tools Shed has been a revelation since its pilot scheme with HMP Wandsworth in 2006.

Converting broken and unwanted non-powered, non-bladed gardening hand tools which would have otherwise ended up in landfills, the project has equipped thousands with the literal tools to create a better, greener environment. From therapeutic gardening workshops for those with mental illnesses to school food-growing lessons teaching children about healthy eating, Tools Shed equipment has been transformative.

Supported by Lancashire County Council, the scheme is also in operation at HMP Garth.

Hugh Sloan, The Conservation Foundation's Tools Shed regional coordinator for the North West, has established collection points at Burscough and Farington household waste recycling centres, Birkacre Garden Centre, Holland House Garden Centre, John Henry Mayors & Sons, and Brockholes Nature Reserve at which the public can donate tools. The equipment is then refurbished and repaired at HMP Garth as part of the prisoners’ skills development and retraining programmes.

A St Peters student working with the repaired tools at school.

A St Peters student working with the repaired tools at school.

"It's very popular," said Hugh, 70, who has worked on the project for two years. "The benefits are amazing; the prisoners can actually do something worthwhile with their time and prisoner rehabilitation was a big part of it from the Conservation Foundation's perspective. The tools we get from Garth are excellent.

"I was speaking to the regional coordination for the South West of England who works with Dartmoor Prison, and he said that some prisoners there are really highly-skilled," added Hugh, who lives in Ulnes Walton. "Getting involved and using their hands and being slightly more creative with their time really has an impact."

A teacher for 40 years, 70-year-old Hugh is a keen environmentalist. A volunteer with his wife at Brockholes Nature Reserve, he is determined to promote the benefits of getting young children more involved in not only learning about the natural environment, but also engaging with it in a more hands-on manner.

"Kids are dead keen to get involved in gardening and food production," explained Hugh. "It's literally giving people the tools to improve their green spaces and is part of the Forest School Learning Initiative (FSLI), which is all about planting trees in school grounds, getting children involved in the natural environment, and making sure schools can plant wildflower meadows."

Any school or environmental community group is eligible to receive refurbished tools as part of Tools Shed. The Conservation Foundation was founded in 1982 to promote positive environmental news, awareness, and action, and working along that mantra, as soon as Hugh has enough equipment, he organises a community giveaway event, with local schools, allotment associations, amenity groups, and gardening clubs all able to register to receive the refurbished tools.

"Hands-on experience [of working in nature] is so important, particularly with youngsters," Hugh said. "They love it, getting their hands dirty. Actually doing it rather than being told about it is so important, and they're leaning that they're planting stuff that grows - trees which will be there in 100 years time.

"That has a impact," Hugh added. "It makes is real for them."

For more info, head to www.conservationfoundation.co.uk, email info@conservationfoundation.co.uk, or call 0207 591 3175.