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Tinkering and creating social fabric in Brussels while bringing economic and ecological answers to the problems of programmed obsolescence(1), this is what Tournevie proposes to do, a non-profit tool lending service located at the MicroMarché(2), in the heart of Brussels. Interview with Olivier Beys, founding member. 

Kairos: Could you explain the concept of Tournevie? How does it work? 

Olivier Beys: It’s very simple, Tournevie is a tool borrowing service that works like a library. For a fee of only 20 euros per year members can borrow any tools for a period of one week with the possibility to extend the loan for one or two weeks. The goal is to give access to the material without having to own it, for ecological reasons, but also for economic and social reasons; social because Tournevie wants to be more than a service by being also a place of meetings and exchanges. 

Where did this idea come from? 

In the United States and Canada, this concept has been in place for a few years now, with some 60 tool lending services spread across North America. At one point, I had a little time on my hands, no job, and I was looking for a concrete and local project to set up, usually working in the abstract. I was also looking to initiate something easy to implement, although I didn’t know anything about tools but I was able to surround myself with the right people with the right knowledge. Thomas (editor’s note: the team’s tool expert) had already been thinking of setting up a similar project for two years, but it had not been successful due to a lack of volunteers willing to invest. 

I heard that there is another tool library in Kortrijk. Did you have any prior contacts? 

Yes, I went to Kortrijk last year to get inspiration from their way of working. We are still in touch since then because we plan to create an open source software to facilitate this kind of initiatives. It will obviously have to be adapted to the context, but it will provide a solid foundation on which to build. 

Coming back to Tournevie, can you explain me how the internet platform works(3) ?

We encourage users to register on our tool management site to reserve tools before picking them up at our offices. Since we are currently only open on Mondays from 7 to 9 pm, we are not overloaded with coding, as we also need to check the tools in and out. This is also the best way to ensure that they will be available at the desired time. 

How did you finance all this material, did you obtain partnerships? And what exactly do the membership fees cover? 

Our model relies on membership fees and some small additional income to make us self-sufficient in rent, maintenance and insurance of tools. But for new purchases, we count on funds and various subsidies, for example from the Brussels Region. 

And there was also a growfunding(4) which allowed us to gather some capital?

Yes, in fact for this kind of initiative I think it is crucial. Because it is not only a means of communication, a way to tell people « hello we are here ». We had collected 8 440 euros, which allowed us to buy a first part of the stock and to be autonomous. Because the problem with funds is that there are waiting periods, constraints, as for the type of use that can be done or not with the aid. At the same time, we prove through growfunding that we have the means to raise the money ourselves and that we are not dependent on them. In the future we may have to do another crowdfunding campaign for a very specific reason, for example the acquisition of tools that are particularly expensive but highly requested by the members. 

We have the impression that funds are very easy to obtain at the moment, that the public authorities are receptive to this type of initiative but our idea at the beginning was not to be dependent on this type of aid. We were just afraid we wouldn’t have enough money to build a solid inventory. So I had applied for a whole series of funds. And all of a sudden « snap of the fingers », we get a lot of money, money that will also be used to keep the membership fees very low: access to the tools must remain derisory, 20 euros of membership is not an obstacle for most people, we want that not to change. 

There is a desire to fight against waste and programmed obsolescence by promoting quality tools that are fully repairable, do you buy mostly new tools or do you have partnerships to recover tools that have had a previous life? 

I don’t know the exact proportions, but I think it’s half and half. We prefer to buy second hand tools because Thomas can repair them and it’s part of our philosophy, but sometimes it’s impossible. On the other hand, we have what we could call « partnerships » with suppliers of some brands that give us discounts. At the moment, we are too small to hope to put pressure on manufacturers and it is utopian to believe that we will succeed, but we hope that with the multiplication of this kind of initiatives and with the groundswell that is growing every day, manufacturers will realize that it is necessary to move to more modular designs and standardization of parts.

How many members have signed up since the launch in September? 

Started on September 21, we are now at 205 members, ah no, 206 with the last membership of the day. We did the calculation to estimate the total value of the equipment loaned to date, we arrive at 36 000 euros of tools borrowed since the beginning. That’s pretty encouraging, isn’t it? 

In four months, yes, that’s really impressive! We had mentioned the will of Tournevie to be more than a loan service but also a place of meetings and exchanges. Do you already have concrete ideas, worshops or others? 

I am currently looking at two avenues. The first, and simplest, is to organize workshops for members and non-members alike to teach the basics of using the most common tools. This is one of the goals of Tournevie: the emancipation of the users, we want to instill in people this spirit of doing things by themselves, with this feeling of accomplishment that emerges from it. For example, one might consider learning the basics about electricity, the tools we use and how they work. I am inspired by an event, « Brico Ladies », which took place in Schaerbeek, at the House of Women. The idea was to teach women of North African origin, often uninitiated to this kind of exercises, the basics of DIY in order to give them more confidence and independence. 

The second idea would be to organize team-buildings for companies, instead of doing accro-branches or other activities a bit cliché. Thomas has for example a concept to create an object together in one day. First, by learning how to use the tools and then by discovering other ways of working together. Also, for many people coming from companies, manual labor is not necessarily an asset, so they are also taken out of their comfort zone. 

And at the same time break with the hierarchical structures of companies? 

It’s in the spirit, yes. It is also valid for schools, we have had feedback from some teachers interested in the concept, to build with the children houses for the birds for example. We would imagine asking for a small financial contribution, not from a commercial point of view, but to ensure a certain autonomy and to allow us to expand our operation without depending on external funds. 

The idea sounds promising! You mentioned it earlier, but can you think of other sectors that are suitable for this type of service? 

There are already libraries of farmers’ seeds. This can also apply to food processors, waffle makers, mixers, … In fact, this can be true for anything you own but only use a few times a year. But in our view, tools will remain our only niche. 

I suppose there is a desire to keep a human scale without trying to expand to all areas. 

That’s right. In the utopia that I imagine for Brussels, it is that there are similar places scattered all over the city, because for those who live far away, I can understand that going to the center takes time. I think if there are connections with circular economy and food places, there can be good synergies. It is not by chance that we are here next to the Micromarché, we feel that it is an open place and conducive to this kind of initiative, but it must extend throughout the city and not only in so-called trendy neighborhoods. 

Is there a message you would like to pass on to readers? 

Yes, Tournevie is always looking for volunteers to carry the project. We are looking for several profiles. First of all, we need volunteers to help us with our office hours, currently every Monday (with the intention of opening soon also on Fridays). People who wish to hold workshops to pass on their knowledge are also welcome. Finally, we are also looking for — which is a bit more particular and harder to find I think — people ready to invest a bit more, a kind of « community manager », who would make links between our project and others; people who would see opportunities to seize with ASBL, companies, the city or whatever, to create synergies. 

Interview by Texas Vandervliet 

Notes et références
  1. L’obsolescence programmée désigne toute perte de qualité d’un objet, qu’elle soit symbolique (comme avec la nécessité créée du renouvellement induit par la mode), programmée lors de la fabrication de l’objet (comme ces puces qui, après un certain nombre d’utilisations de l’appareil le rendent inutilisable), ou encore par l’utilisation et la complexification qui rendent la réparation artisanale impossible (vis qui ne correspondent à aucun outil commercialisé, système informatisé codé, etc.).
  2. Plateforme créative pour des projets socioéconomiques, culturels et artistiques.
  4. Site de financement participatif pour des initiatives bruxelloises.

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