Belfast Telegraph

Tools for Solidarity charity left £6,000 out of pocket as thieves target building twice

By Chris Kilpatrick

A charity has revealed that it will be £6,000 out of pocket after callous thieves struck twice in the space of a few weeks.

Tools for Solidarity refurbishes unwanted hand tools and sewing machines which are then sent to Africa.

Many of its volunteers in south Belfast are local people with learning disabilities.

But just before Christmas, the Sunnyside Street base was broken into and damage was caused.

Then last week, burglars struck and made off with valuable machinery and tools belonging to builders who were installing improved disability access measures for the volunteers.

As they fled, the heartless criminals dropped an expensive circular saw as they attempted to lift it over a wall, breaking it.

Fearing they would be caught, they also tried to hide other pilfered items in nearby gardens, although fortunately most were recovered by police.

Nevertheless, the charity had to foot the cost of the damage to the equipment.

Coupled with the damage to the property, it set it back more than £1,000.

Conor Cleland from Tools for Solidarity revealed the charity had no choice now but to increase the security at the site, including the installation a new alarm system there.

The bill for doing so is estimated at more than £5,000.

But the combined cost to the charity as a result of both break-ins is now more than £6,000.

"For 20 years we've run a supported volunteering programme which we offer to people with learning disabilities," Mr Cleland told the Belfast Telegraph.

"For us it's about giving people the ability to get out and take part.

"About half of the staff are people with disabilities.

"The amount of money this will cost us is a lot out of our pockets.

"It's a big deal. We operate within tight margins.

"It's upsetting to come in and see people have wrecked the place to get essentially what is waste to others."

The charity was set up more than 30 years ago. Staff collect donated tools and other equipment such as sewing machines, which are reconditioned and sent to those in need in Africa.

It aims to provide work to around 20 people with learning disabilities in the near future.

"They stole a circular saw which they threw over a wall and broke," Mr Cleland added.

"Other items taken were found nearby so they didn't actually get away with much. Basically they came in, were incompetent, and cost us a fortune. There's nothing here for them. We don't have any money.

"They've been here twice and our thinking is that they will come back. So we have to take steps to make sure they don't come in and wreck the place again."

Police are investigating.

Factfile

Tools for Solidarity is a voluntary charity based in Belfast and Downpatrick which supports artisans and communities in some of the poorest countries in the world by providing high quality refurbished hand tools and machines. It collects, refurbishes and ships out old and unwanted hand tools and sewing machines to skilled tradespeople in Africa.

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