Community Repair and Reuse Projects
There’s a rapidly growing movement bucking against the so-called ‘throw-away society’ – community repair or re-use projects like Repair Café, The Restart Project, Freecycle Network and Freegle.
For repair groups, the idea is that household items like laptops, vacuum cleaners, bicycles, clothing, gardening equipment, toys and furniture are repaired on community days, usually for free, which then gives these objects a new lease of life and saves them from being thrown away and filling up landfill sites, at least for a while longer.
The first Repair Café was held in Amsterdam in 2009, an initiative of Martine Postma, and there are now more than 1200 Repair Cafés worldwide. Their motto: “Toss it? No way!” The Repair Café Foundation, started in 2011, now provides support to Repair Cafés worldwide.
How Does it Work?
The idea is simple: specialists and those interested or talented in repairing things volunteer to be repairers, Repair Café days are advertised, people bring in their broken stuff on the day, and get involved in learning how to repair their item while an expert shows them how. Or if owners don’t want to be quite as hands-on, they can watch experts repairing their items. Of course there’s also usually chit-chat, coffee, tea and biscuits on offer – it wouldn’t be called a “café” it there wasn’t! It’s a free service, although owners are often happy to make a donation.
And there’s a high rate of repairs – at least half or more of all items brought in are usually repaired on the day, or owners are told what’s wrong and which parts to buy to enable fixing of their items. Even if it’s discovered that items can’t be repaired, owners are usually pleased that someone knowledgeable has had a good look and has then pronounced it unrepairable, or perhaps together they’ve decided it’s too expensive to repair. Owners feel happier sending those items for recycling or to landfill, knowing they’ve at least tried to repair them first.
Some Repair Cafés are quite sophisticated. With donations from grateful owners, they’ve purchased an array of suitable tools and basic spares for all sorts of repair work, while others might have books on display or for borrowing all about DIY and repairing common household items. Some partner with local businesses, such as mobile phone repair shops, who come along and offer free advice or demonstrations on the day, or offer discounts should customers need to take their items in for professional repairs. Many Repair Cafés have their own Facebook Pages – for example Royston Repair Café, based in Royston, Hertfordshire, UK.
Royston Repair Café
Chris Lee, founder of Royston Repair Café, says he first heard about the Repair Café concept through Twitter. “The idea had an immediate appeal as we’d set up a Freecycling group ten years earlier and the Repair Café seemed like a natural development – another way to keep items in use for longer. The Freecycle group was our main source of repairers at the start and is now an important way to publicise Repair Café events to the 6,500 members,” says Chris, who is a keen social media marketer for the events and repairer of furniture.
“Royston Repair Café has been up and running for three years now, and we’ve got a really good core group of volunteer repairers as well as other volunteers who help with admin, meeting and greeting, and of course, that all important skill: tea and coffee making!”
Chris’s advice to others thinking of starting up a Repair Café in their area is to first liaise with the mother organisation, RepairCafe.org, who have lots of guidance on their website. Their digital starter pack is available for a reasonable one-off fee, and provides a ton of information and marketing materials. This also buys you the right to be associated with the Repair Café brand name worldwide and gets your Repair Café listed on their website.
So next time something of yours breaks, don’t throw it away and rush to buy a new one. Visit your local community repair group or start your own!
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