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Repair Cafe

Don't replace it - fix it!

Becki Gelling writes about community project Repair Café, which she has founded with husband Alan, and how it's encouraging a less throwaway society:

We have the internet at our fingers and in our pockets. When something breaks, more often than not it’s easier to order a replacement than it is to track down the fault and carry out what could be a fairly simple repair. We are also often sadly lacking the skills and confidence to even give this a go in the first place.

Repair Café helps to tackle both of these factors. We pair up volunteers who have experience and skills across a range of areas with the items that are brought in.

The first Repair Café was set up by Martine Postma in Amsterdam in 2009. She went on to start The Repair Café Foundation in 2011, a non-profit organisation that provides support to local groups wishing to bring the concept to their local areas.

There are now over 1,500 Repair Cafes worldwide.

We first became aware of Repair Café as a concept after chatting to a friend of ours who set up Repair Café Wales a few years ago. What caught our attention was how wonderfully simple, yet effective, the idea is, and it combines so many aspects which we are incredibly passionate about.

Alan’s background is in engineering and as anyone who has worked with him can tell you: if there’s one way to pique his interest and get something fixed, it’s to frame it as a challenge and let his detective skills and natural determination to find the problem come to the forefront.

When you couple this with an ingrained reluctance to throw away anything that looks remotely useful, and a passion for reducing unnecessary waste, it’s easy to see how a concept like Repair Café resonated with Alan especially.

Supported by a crack team of volunteers, we get together once a month, currently at Port St Mary Golf Pavilion, to tinker with whatever bits and pieces people want to bring us.

The collaborative approach, which seems to have come naturally to our sessions so far, means the time flies by and really brings everyone together which is what we had hoped for – the volunteer repairers work together on the different items and the people who have brought along their items for repair enjoy the relaxed, friendly, atmosphere that comes when a team of passionate people get together to help other members of their community.

So far we have seen a range of bits and pieces in need of varying states of repair: a bicycle, stand mixers, a child’s toy, laptop, radio, stereo, Christmas ornament, vacuum cleaner and a calculator – so there really is an intriguing mix of stuff out there that needs a little attention. We never know what’s going to come through the doors - it’s quite exciting really!

While we haven’t been able to fully repair everything, in some cases we have been able to restore some level of usability. For example, the child’s toy. We were able to restore the lights but not the sound (I’m pretty sure this was actually the preferred outcome for the little girl’s mum and dad though…). Likewise the laptop we were brought at our latest session was, sadly, beyond repair. However, Martin, one of our volunteers, who specialises in all things computers, was able to remove the hard drive and walk the owner through how to retrieve the data stored in it.

Even in the cases where an item has unfortunately been beyond repair, at least the owners know that they have tried before they replace the item all together – and we’ve even been able to extract some useful parts out of the defunct items which can hopefully be repurposed in future repairs (I told you we were hoarders…).

Our next session will be held on Monday 8th April from 5pm-7pm at Port St Mary Golf Pavilion. Anyone interested in volunteering should get in touch either via our Facebook page Repair Café Isle of Man, or at repaircafeiom@gmail.com

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