Repair cafes provide a way to get your fix

Why it's 'Repaired' rather than 'Made' in Dagenham, these days...
28 March 2023




Now one prong of the Right to Repair movement’s plan to reduce waste of all kinds is to help people directly with fixing their things at community events known as Repair Cafes. The idea is that you bring your broken item, electrical or not, and volunteers see what they can do to try and help you out with it. I went to one such event in Dagenham this week, and there to talk me through how it all works was Michaela Main from the East London Waste Authority...

Michaela - We've got electrical fixers from Restart: brilliant organisation. We also have Kemi delivering us some textile repairs. We have some bike repairs and MOTs. We sort of say to people, come along and we'll try our best. We can't guarantee a fix, but maybe the electrical repairers can diagnose a problem at least and suggest a spare part that somebody could get and that's on the right track to the repair. Some people might want to bring large items. We did have a request for someone to bring a lawn mower today, but I actually did put them off and I did signpost them to Restart because there's lots of forums, lots of people having discussions. So it's a little bit like we might limit to smaller electricals just because we want to make it a bit more accessible to people.

James - Just as I was setting up, I was amazed at how simple it was. There was a gent who brought in a coffee machine and literally just came up to you at the desk and said, "hi, my coffee machine's leaking." And within a second he was pointed to someone who was willing to help him try and fix it.

Michaela - What you saw with Quentin coming in today with his coffee machine, luckily someone was ready to take his repair. Otherwise, sometimes, it can be a little bit of a wait. But what we've got, we've got some refreshments, we've got people to chat to, we've got some information on the tables. So we want to create an environment where if you do have to wait a little while, that's okay, but you will be seen.

Kemi - Well, I just finished helping somebody extend the life cycle of her duvet cover because the poppers had gone. So fortunately for me, I come with everything, my bag full of tricks and all sorts of weird and wonderful things inside my bag. So I had these little plastic poppers and I said to the lady, "well, we can't really use your ones because they're gone, but I've got some poppers." So she was like, "really?" So I've shown it to her and she said, "how are you going to do this?" I said, "well just watch and see what happens." Well, we finished it and I've repaired her duvet for her.

James - What is it that motivated you to give your time and your expertise?

Kemi - I get motivated because it's always been my passion, reducing waste and repurposing lives [of garments]. And what I've discovered is it's a skill that we're losing. Fast fashion is a big problem. There's too much, it causes too many problems - carbon emissions. If people can't repair it, they throw it away. You can extend the life cycle of a garment. and it just slows you down from buying too much. You know, we need to take our planet more serious. I'm a person who's very much passionate about our environment.

Stefania  Yes. My name is Stefania and I'm a volunteer for the Restart project.

James - Before I interrupted you, what is it that you were doing?

Stefania - I was tidying up after a failed repairing that was a steam iron that for some reason wasn't working. We tried to open it and I gave up. Sometimes it's not easy. We took a lot of time to open it because there were two different safety screws and that is the main issue for us: to get inside the items. We found 50 different screws in all the items that we repaired. In practice, are you supposed to have 50 different screwdrivers? That is crazy.

James - You've just sort of started this afternoon slot and there's already a bit of a busyness about the place.

Michaela - So we had a gentleman called Joe come in this afternoon just before we'd opened, and he said, "I saw a poster but there wasn't a telephone number to call. I don't go online." So it's having the right advertising, but also what we actually want to encourage and we want to see is community groups setting up themselves. That's much more sustainable. Eventually, funding runs out, funding always runs out. But if we've got community groups that we can support then we can keep it going that little bit longer.

James - Is there a lack of confidence that you see with people who bring their things? Relatively simple fixes that people are not confident enough to do themselves? So as much about fixing things, it's about showing people that it can be done?

Michaela - Yeah, absolutely. And as part of the repair cafes, what we try to encourage, and you can see it here today, is the visitor is sitting with the repairer. So not only are they having their item fixed, they're hopefully learning what's happening. So they're seeing their item being opened up and this afternoon we'll have a children's workshop as well. So they'll be learning how to use a screwdriver and how to unscrew something. The other thing is that lots of us will say that items are made to be thrown away to buy the new one. And actually, that is very true, but also that's the easy way out. I think that sort of makes people feel a little bit less guilty.


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