(L to R) The MA's Sally Colvin joins culture secretary Fiona Hyslop, NMS director Gordon Rintoul and Alex Hayward, keeper of science and technology at NMS, at the official launch of Old Tools, New Uses last year. Image: Trustees of NMS

Scottish Effective Collections project surpasses ambitions

Geraldine Kendall, 28.10.2011
Old Tools, New Uses donated unused museum objects to international charity
A nationwide Effective Collections project in Scotland has been hailed as an “exemplar for the sector” because of its work in shipping unused tools held by museums to artisan communities in Tanzania and Sierra Leone.

The project, Old Tools, New Uses, was launched in 2009 after gaining a £25,000 grant through the Museums Association’s Effective Collections scheme, which is funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

The project was the brainchild of the Scottish Transport and Industrial Collections Subject Specialist Network (STICK) in collaboration with the charity Tools for Self Reliance (TFSR).

STICK worked with participating museums across Scotland to assist with collections reviews and identify tools suitable for refurbishment and disposal. TFSR then matched the equipment to artisan groups such as carpenters, tailors and blacksmiths in a number of African countries.

At an event yesterday to mark the end of the disposal process, STICK said the project had surpassed its original ambitions. So far a total of 38 objects have been donated to TFSR and a further 15 typewriters to Workaid, a similar charity that restores historic technology.

Among the recipient communities was a council of churches in Sierra Leone that received a blacksmith’s leg vice, while in Tanzania, the Juhudi Carpentry Group was sent a ripsaw and Mahembe Tailoring, which manufactures school uniforms, is to receive treadle sewing machines and haberdashery.

The recipients are also being given specialist training in the use of the machinery.
The project proved beneficial not only to the charities involved, but to the Scottish museum sector. During the process, STICK produced a master catalogue of Scottish industrial and domestic tools, as well as guidance material to enable future curators to undertake collections reviews.

The network also put together national learning resources for schools and created model loan boxes for museums to use as a template for getting their collections out into the local community.

MA collections coordinator Sally Colvin said: “I like this project so much because it is outward looking. It puts a group of collections in the context of the world around us and then acts accordingly to make those collections understood, sustainable and useful.

“That has to be what a programme called Effective Collections is all about.”

Jilly Burns, National Partnerships Manager at National Museums Scotland (NMS), said: “NMS considers the Old Tools, New Uses project an exemplar for the sector.

“The STICK network is 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 partnership.”