Before throwing a broken item away, consider taking it to a repair cafe.
Words by Emma Heath – Illustrations & Content Design by Julius Aleksa
Repair cafes are meeting places where you’ll find tools, materials and volunteers to help you make any repairs you might need, free of charge. Visitors can bring in broken or malfunctioning items and find experts to repair anything from appliances, clothes, furniture, crockery, and so on.
If you don’t have anything to repair you can still enjoy a drink from the cafe, help out with someone else’s repairs or read the books on repairs and DIY that some provide.
Right to Repair
The movement opposes copyright laws that don’t allow people to repair their own equipment or to get it repaired independently. Therefore, “right to repair” centres on preserving practical DIY and repair-based skills that, building both independence and community. People can come together, learn new skills and appreciate the value of their possessions as they help to build a sustainable future.
The very first Repair Cafe was organised in Amsterdam by environmentalist Martine Postma in 2009, and was met with great success. In 2011 she started the Repair Cafe Foundation, a non-profit organisation that supports groups wishing to start their own Repair Cafe on an international level.
There are currently 2091 repair cafes listed on RepairCafe.org, with over 100 in the United Kingdom. There are 5 repair cafes in Worcestershire alone–in Bewdley, Kidderminster, Malvern Hills, Redditch and Worcester.
Repair cafes are estimated to have saved approximately 200,000kg of carbon dioxide emissions in 2015-equivalent to the average annual carbon dioxide emissions of 25 households.
In 2017, repair cafes saved approximately 300,000 products from landfill, altogether about the same weight as a double-decker train with twelve carriages.
A product successfully repaired at a repair cafe can prevent up to 24 kilos of carbon dioxide emissions. Over time, repair cafes and workshops reduce the amount of raw materials and energy required to make new products, reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
What about repairs during the lockdown?
These services can potentially be accessed during the lockdown
During a lockdown when we’re all stuck inside, a project like volunteer work can act as an outlet that benefits the community. Maintenance cafes and workshops are non-profit endeavours and need the public’s support, whether through fundraising, volunteering or the donations of tools. These services still need support during the lockdown.
Do you know someone who has time, money or tools that they could donate to this cause?
- Chailey Cafe has taken on nearly 200 repairs since lockdown through their “drop it on our doorstep service”. They developed a system where people email their requests, which are then handed over to the volunteers.
- A volunteer who is nearby and qualified for this job can accept the request and make contact with the customer.
- The customer leaves their item on the volunteer’s doorstep and is sent an email once it’s fixed so they can collect it, and invited to make a donation to the cafe if they can.
- It is a simple but effective solution to navigating volunteer work during a lockdown.
People who visit repair cafes are more likely to throw away broken items to avoid the costs.
Such cafes not only provide free repairs to those that need them. Besides, it brings attention to the fact that, in an age of consumerism, fast fashion and planned obsolescence, restoration is still very much an option. The Repair Café Foundation claims that this is why such cafes don’t compete with specialists.
Other organisations choose to address the concern of potential competition. They are focussing solely on teaching members of the public DIY and restoration-based skills.
If you are concerned that providing free repairs may take customers away from professionals, you can set up workshops such as those run by The Restart Project, where the focus is more on visitors learning how to fix their items.
The Repair Cafe Foundation offers a digital start-up kit for £35. It includes instructional advice on generating publicity and funding, finding suitable locations, local experts, and so on.
Consider helping your local cafe through donations or raising awareness of the movement online this Green Week. Community is as important now as it will ever be, and we can find ways of holding onto that at a safe distance.
Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns