Mod­ern Life: What are re­pair cafés?

The Oldie - - CONTENTS - So­nia Zhu­rav­ly­ova

‘No job is too small, from tablets and toast­ers to iphones and head­phones’

The idea of re­pair cafés was born in Am­s­ter­dam in 2007 and swiftly spread across the world. The premise is sim­ple enough: in­stead of throw­ing away your rusty toaster, faulty vac­uum cleaner or knack­ered ket­tle, you take it to a café or so­cial space, where knowl­edge­able vol­un­teers help you un­der­stand what’s gone wrong and then show you how to mend it.

It’s a skill – and a mind­set – that’s been eroded by ram­pant con­sumerism and in-built ob­so­les­cence, says Ali­son Winfield-chislett, who runs fre­quent re­pair cafés at the Goodlife Cen­tre, near Lon­don’s Bor­ough Mar­ket.

‘You can re­ally sense the frus­tra­tion: peo­ple don’t want to throw things away but don’t know how to fix them ei­ther,’ she says. ‘And we are all now much less fa­mil­iar with the idea that a stitch in time saves nine.’

What’s more, she says, man­u­fac­tur­ers of­ten make it tricky for us to fix things, by ei­ther mak­ing the in­nards of our white goods hard to ac­cess, or fre­quently chang­ing com­po­nents so that it’s im­pos­si­ble to re­place parts.

‘We don’t have a re­la­tion­ship with much of our stuff; we just use it with­out un­der­stand­ing how it works,’ she says. ‘But the more knowl­edge you have, the more in­vest­ment you can have in an item, and fix­ing it gives you a sense of own­er­ship as well.’

There are now more than 1,500 such cafés world­wide – and their ranks are swelling. Ini­tia­tives such as the Restart Pro­ject, which runs reg­u­lar Restart

Par­ties, have found an en­thu­si­as­tic au­di­ence since launch­ing in 2012. Here peo­ple teach each other how to re­pair their bro­ken and slow elec­tronic de­vices. Even the tini­est of ob­jects – so easy to toss into a bin and re­place – are fixed by ‘restarters’. No job is too small, from tablets and toast­ers to iphones and head­phones. The Restart Pro­ject’s logo is a span­ner in the mid­dle of a cir­cle, and its motto pro­claims en­cour­ag­ingly, ‘Don’t de­spair, just re­pair.’

At­ten­dees range from peo­ple who can’t af­ford to buy new things to those who don’t like the idea of throw­ing stuff away, and those who sim­ply love tin­ker­ing. And while they’re sweat­ing over cir­cuit boards, there is time for a chat, too: where that cake-mixer came from; how much this TV cost; where this cam­era was used last. The events are a labour of love for the fix­ers, for whom no prob­lem goes un­ex­am­ined or un­prod­ded. It’s also heart­en­ing to know that, on av­er­age, the re­pair­ers will di­vert 55lb of waste from go­ing to land­fill af­ter each such gath­er­ing.

These re­pair events aren’t the pre­serve of peo­ple who can re­mem­ber liv­ing through the ac­tual era of ‘make do and mend’. The Li­brary of Things, started by a group of twen­tysome­things in south Lon­don, is an en­ter­prise where use­ful items – be they tents, drills or wet­suits – can be bor­rowed at knock­down prices, mean­ing these items are not left to gather cob­webs in sheds or at­tics af­ter just one use. The li­brary also runs re­pair par­ties and skill-shar­ing work­shops.

Make do and mend? Sounds like a fine idea for our times.

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