From small seed to giant mustard tree
In 1978 Jack Norwood, a deacon at Belle Vue Baptist Church in Southend, was asked by the Baptist Men’s Society to head up a project making incubators. This was followed by a request for solar powered incubators and Jack went out to Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) for a year (1979-1980) to develop them. A teacher from Waterlooville, John Bennett became interested and from this partnership Tools with a Mission was borne.
As John became involved he extended his interest as he discovered that tools were badly needed and soon involved pupils from his school collecting all kinds of agricultural tools. Under his supervision the pupils cleaned, renovated and painted the tools ready to go to Zaire. They organised a “sponsored event” to get the money with which to ship them, and that was the first Tools with a Mission shipment sent to David Stuckley, a missionary working in Zaire (now DR Congo).
This idea began to formulate in John’s mind, and he decided that there must be others in the same situation as David, trying to pass on skills to people who badly needed them, but with little in the way of actual tools. John suggested the idea to the Baptist Men’s Movement who adopted the idea and launched Tools With A Mission in 1984.
From garage to barn
Initially it operated out of a double garage and shed in Bexleyheath but after just five years the work had to look for larger premises.
In response to an article in the Baptist Times, Bill and Beryl Dewhurst offered the use of a barn on their farm on the outskirts of Ipswich. Thurleston Lodge Farm became the new home of TWAM and a regular work team was established. Initially it was monthly, then weekly and soon daily.
Space was again soon at a premium and it was at this point that rented premises had to be sought in order to obtain the kind of space required. TWAM moved into Perry Barn, in Sproughton, just outside Ipswich which had 2,300 square feet of warehouse space, plus the luxuries of heating, toilets and a canteen area. TWAM was now growing at a rate that was unimaginable in the early days.
By this stage the output had increased dramatically, due to the fact that all operations could now be carried out under the one roof. It was decided to register as a charity in 1999. TWAM quickly established itself as an interdenominational charity, gaining support from all the major denominations as well as many secular organisations. In spite of additional storage space being created by using two 20-foot containers and a Portakabin to accommodate the office staff, operational space quickly became a premium.
From barn to warehouse
After much prayer the TWAM board were led to take a twenty-year lease on a unit, on Hadleigh Road Industrial Estate in Ipswich. This gave just over 6700 square feet of floor space, which increased by a further 1000 square feet when a mezzanine floor was added over the workshop area.
Just two years into the lease the owner offered TWAM the opportunity to purchase the property, which we were able to do for £270,000. Appeals raised over £185,000 and since then we have been able to make all the repayments on the bank loan. The mezzanine floor has again been extended to accommodate the haberdashery and book departments.
The rest as they say is history!