Prisoners learn new skills with Tool Shed project

Gorgie City Farm's Callum Mill starts gathering up tools for the retraining project.  Picture:  Ian Rutherford
Gorgie City Farm's Callum Mill starts gathering up tools for the retraining project. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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A FIRST-of-its-kind initiative for Scotland is benefitting the Edinburgh community and helping female prisoners learn new skills by giving broken garden tools a new lease of life.

The Tool Shed project, the brainchild of environmental charity The Conservation Foundation, takes donated broken garden implements to prisons across the UK, where they are repaired by inmates and then redistributed to worthy causes and community groups.

Already successful in several prisons in England, the project recently set up in Scotland for the first time, with the workshop at HMP Edinburgh also being the first to involve female prisoners in the scheme.Jim Shields, 54, Employability, Trade and Craft Manager at HMP Edinburgh, said: “We were only too happy to get involved. It’s a very simple idea that not only saves money and waste, but also gives our prisoners a sense of purpose and a chance to learn new skills.

“Prisoners can only attend if they are given permission, and we usually have about twelve women working at a time, with between 50-60 prisoners involved overall.

“Obviously some women are only with us for short periods, but we have a core group of women serving longer sentences who come regularly.”

Mr Shields estimates that the inmates have already repaired around 250 tools, which have been redistributed to community projects, school gardening schemes and church groups.

“As well as preventing these tools from going on a landfill and giving them back to the community in good working order, this project also engages the inmates in a purposeful activity with a positive end result. At the moment the public can drop off broken tools at New Hopetoun Gardens in West Lothian, but we’ve just been informed that Dunbar Garden Centre will also soon be getting involved.”

Broken tools will also be collected at a Seed Swap event at Gorgie City Farm tomorrow between 11am - 4pm.

The Conservation Foundation’s Lindsay Swan said: “We are delighted that an officer from Saughton Prison will be there to swap the ‘new’ tools for old and to tell gardeners about Tools Shed.”

Last month we revealed that Saughton is also home to Scotland’s first “henitentiary” – a chicken farm with 20 birds tended by female inmates.

jen.lavery@edinburghnews.com