That rather expensive vacuum cleaner that you bought not long ago has stopped working – or decides itself whether it will work or not. And it is just outside the guarantee period. So, do you drop it off at the local authority recycling centre on your way to the retail park for a new one?
The rather nice Art Deco statuette that was Granny’s – you didn’t mean to knock it down, but there it is with its head detached.
And to top it all, your old faithful leather jacket has got a big rip under the arm.
Some things have monetary value; others less so, but they have an emotional connection which money cannot fix. If only there were some way to save the item from landfill, even in a non-original but acceptable format. Or perhaps it is the guilt trip – you think it might be fixable, but you just don’t know, can somebody take a look and give a second opinion?
The Repair Café: a worldwide movement
Say hello to your community’s local Repair Café. The name is often literal – you bring your broken item, you explain the problem, you are assigned an appropriate repairer, you drink coffee while repairs are undertaken. You walk out with a repaired item, or the knowledge that it was indeed beyond repair, you can dispose of it (hopefully via recycling) without guilt. The cost? Just the coffee – and any donation you deem appropriate.
It might be a monthly event in a church, perhaps a village hall, possibly on an island in the Indian Ocean. No, that is not facetious, the Repair Café movement is global.
There appear to be around sixteen currently in the East Anglia region. The two with which I am familiar are Woodbridge and Martlesham, in Suffolk. Since set-up in 2019 and 2021 respectively, they have become steadily busier as people have become aware of their presence in the community.
The key is community
And here we have an important point – community. There is a policy not to encroach on the areas covered by local businesses: the bike shop, the shoe repairers, the garages, all those who need local support on the High Street or the local industrial estate.
Who are the repairers? The age range varies, however they are often retired people who have developed a skill set over decades through their trade or profession. The East Suffolk towns have many folks who had engineering roles at the BT Labs in Martlesham. Additionally those with experience of sewing machines through a hobby lend their talents; then there are keen young people who wish to improve their practical acumen in a worthwhile context.
A large number of mains-powered electrical items are brought in. After repair and reassembly, these are PAT-tested for safety reasons.
For items which cannot be repaired in the time available, or with the tools available, there is, in the case of the two Cafés mentioned, an option to refer them to the Repair Shed. This is located at another site, with improved facilities, and without the time pressure of the Café itself. As a sub group, some of the Café volunteers attend the Shed at times which suit them, to effect more complex repairs. Soldering stations, oscilloscopes and other equipment are available on site.
Spread the word, save the planet
The Cafés attract the interest of local media, including BBC Suffolk. As word gets around, enthusiasts from other towns and villages visit, picking up ideas and advice which they then take back to their communities and set up their own Repair Café.
What is the motivation for the repairers? There is a good deal of satisfaction to be derived from fixing something, chiefly the delight of the recipient of the fixed object. But there is also the idea that you have beaten the system, the system of built-in obsolescence, the system based on the false premise of infinite resources, that consigns not just highly processed and environmentally persistent materials to landfill, but historically all the energy that went into the production of the final item.
Metals are refined from ore, plastics are derived from oil, there is potential toxicity in breakdown products. To know that you have made a small but quantifiable difference to that unsustainable regime is a strong driver.
There is a minimal but necessary amount of administration, which is addressed by a simple paper pro-forma for each repair. From this, data can be assembled allowing estimates of energy or carbon saved, or other indicators, for statistical analysis.
The Repair Cafe is a community phenomenon whose time has come – a Zeitgeist, but a positive one.