Monthly Archives: August 2019

My top tips for starting a Repair Café

I helped start the Royston Repair Café back in February 2014 which, at that time, was one of only 12 in the country. Since then we’ve organised 22 quarterly community repair events in Royston (in north Herts) and inspired a whole host of others in and around Cambridge. I’m pleased to say that interest in repair is spreading like wildfire, reflected in pieces on mainstream TV and radio. These days I get so many calls about starting Repair Cafes, I thought I’d put together my personal tips in case you’d like to start one in your area.

  1. Visit a couple of established Repair Cafes and ideally take along a broken item; there’s no better way to get a grasp of what it’s all about. Before planning the Royston Repair Cafe, I visited two very different ones – in London and Malvern. Organisers are usually happy to explain what’s going on, but it’s best to let them know in advance that you’re coming. Also look online for tips so you can ask useful questions when you meet organisers.
  2. Don’t get hung up on health and safety and insurance. Of course taking care is important, but people always imagine the worst possible scenario – someone taking a faulty item home after a ‘bad repair’ and then it (the item) burns the house down! It’s not a legal requirement to have insurance cover (but some venues require it) and the repair work at a public event is likely to be safer than a DIY job at home. Common sense is the best way to keep safe:
  • Make sure repairers work within the limits of their skills and, if necessary, get help from other repairers. We buddy up new repairers with more experienced ones to make sure everyone is happy about capabilities
  • Explain to owners that you are enthusiastic amateurs not paid professionals (also use a disclaimer – see below)
  • Don’t take on a major repair if you’re not happy to do so for any reason. We always say we’re a clinic not a hospital.
  1. Get advance bookings (we use Eventbrite for free online registrations) so you can let your repairers know what’s coming in (meaning your bike or clothing repairers don’t need to attend if no bikes or clothes are booked in). It also allows you to advise owners if any repair needs are unsuitable (for example, welding).
  2. Don’t offer appointment times as you never know whether a fix will take 5, 15 or 25 minutes. We are open for 3 hours and suggest that people don’t all come at the start nor 15 minutes before the end time. Depending on the items arriving and the repairers available with relevant skills, owners may need to wait – so tea and coffee, and tables and chairs are needed.
  3. Try to make sure your venue allows you to have repairs and waiting area in the same space. This means waiting owners can see what’s going on – that there’s a queue – and don’t feel they are being ignored. It also avoids any sense of ‘them and us’ – we’re not promoting ourselves as ‘experts’.
  4. If you’re having trouble recruiting repairers with relevant skills try contacting organisations that attract older members. Organisations like the University of the Third Age have members from a ‘make-do-and-mend’ generation – and skills to match – and they also may have more time on their hands. We recruited repairers through our local freecycle group (which we also run…)
  5. Encourage repairers to give a running commentary Owners are expected to stay with their items and the repairers while s/he assesses the problem and talks through any repairs undertaken. The idea is that the owner leaves knowing more about his/her item than when they arrived. Some Repair Cafes offer ‘skillshare’ sessions to teach DIY repair work.
  6. Encourage repairers to be honest about their abilities We aim to repair over 50% of items brought in for assessment. It’s disheartening to have a personal low fix rate, so make sure that repairers are, as far as possible, matched with broken items they are happy to work on. At our events the person booking in items on the day has a list of repairers with their skills listed to help the matching process.
  7. Make friends with your local professional repairers We want to stress that we are not about putting repairers (bike shops, shoe repairers etc) out of business. We produce a list of local repairers and their contact details and recommend them to Repair Café attenders as necessary.
  8. Talk to bookers in advance if there are things they need to bring/ do in advance Getting bookings in advance means that you can alert owners if they need to prepare for their visit eg by also bringing a monitor with their broken DVD player to test it if/when it’s fixed.
  9. Get owners to sign a ‘disclaimer’ when they arrive. We have a set of ‘rules’ that clarifies the relationship between owner and repairer. We ask the owners to read and sign this – it will not stand up in court but helps establish the amateur nature of our (voluntary) work.
  10. Do some market research You can test out the best times and days for running your events – with would-be attenders and potential repairers. We run four a year on Sunday mornings because that’s about the right frequency for our available repairers and people seem to be less busy on Sunday mornings. But many run on Saturdays…
  11. Get feedback We ask attenders to filling in a short series of questions when they leave and also record the success (or otherwise) of assessment and repair. This is useful for publicity, for reporting back to repairers, and useful if you ever need to make a grant application for running costs
  12. Invite donations We alert people in advance to the fact that the event is free, but we appreciate donations to cover insurance, venue hire, refreshments, consumables such as glues and fuses, publicity materials etc. We leave a clearly marked donations pot on the registration desk and often get very generous donations. If you build up a good pot of money you can develop a Repair Café Toolkit (but repairers tend to bring their own tools and seem happy to do so). Some Repair Cafes charge for teas, coffees and cakes as another way to raise funds.
  13. Don’t forget to include past attenders in your future publicity distribution Our Eventbrite online booking form (which goes live about 4 weeks before the event) captures e-mails but we ask people if they want to be mailed about future events when they register on the day. We mail past attenders about two weeks before the event and get a significant number of returning owners (when they’ve discovered how informal, fun and money-saving attendance can be!)

Saturday 19 October is International Repair Day – your chance to put repair on the map in your area https://openrepair.org/international-repair-day

For further information (including photos) go to www.facebook.com/RoystonRepairCafe and for a guide to setting up a Repair Café (and repair events in and around Cambridge) go to www.circularcambridge.org (click on ‘resources’) Other blog posts on repair theme are at https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/repairing-the-world

Here’s to paperless paperwork

Remember the paperless office? For those too young to remember the aspiration…. Decades ago (it was big in the 70s) we were told that the paperless office was the future – everything would be computerised (these were the days before words like ‘online’, ‘digitised’, and ‘cloud’ had been coined) and so paper – it was probably also a time when environmentalism was on the rise – would become a thing of the past.

15 years ago, the Chief Executive of the organisation employing me at the time claimed to have a paperless office. You would enter and see a big round table (clean top) for meetings, a small round table with a desktop PC on it, and nothing much else apart, no doubt, from the odd potted plant and a picture or two on the walls. But nearby was his personal assistant’s office – piled high with paper! So technically he did have a paperless office, but…

Now, after 40 years working in the not-for-private-profit sector with charities and social enterprises, I’ve sort of succeeded in having a paperless office – mainly because I don’t have an office! My work requires me to be mobile – dropping anchor at two main locations during my three-day working week, with meetings in other places as required (which is quite often). The A10 from Royston to Waltham Cross is my workspace and everything I need to do my job is carried in a rucksack on my back and a computer bag in my hand. There’s no scope for gathering the sorts of piles of paper I would previously have ‘filed’ in a tray or two on my desk in the days when I had an office (to be periodically sorted, used, ignored, thrown away).

It’s a great discipline, it calls for advance planning – making sure I have the right pieces of information to hand for the various 1-2-1 meetings that are at the heart of my work and, after seven months, I feel I’m getting to grips with the demands of this new office-free role.

But alas, even now it’s not paperless.

A large amount of paper is still required for an impressive amount of record-keeping that is required of my day-to-day activity. The records are read in hard-copy format before being stored electronically. This somewhat flies in the face of the increasing need to conserve resources, including trees, and the expectation that data is carefully protected. Sadly, the paperwork that goes with a funded-programme of work is, in our case just that – paperwork.

https://www.gocanvas.com/content/blog/post/the-history-of-the-paperless-office/

Wine by weight

I don’t want to give the impression that my holidays revolve around alcohol, but this June I was looking forward to a special service provided by a small Greek supermarket that I’d visited two years previously.

At that time the enterprising owner offered to fill your own container (usually a bottle, but it could be a basin – only joking) with pleasant and affordable local red or white wine and would then charge the customer according to the weight of wine (having weighed the container before and after). This meant you could buy as little or as much as you wanted and, importantly, it cut down on single-use bottles – never a bad thing in a world of increasing consumption and waste of non-renewable resources and in a country which is still , I think, in a financial crisis.

Sad to report then that this June the wine was no longer available on tap and the woman behind the counter – not the owner – had never heard of the idea and had been working there for nearly two years. So, the practice had ceased around June 2017 and, at that stage, I could only speculate why the service had been stopped.

Maybe, I thought, it was about demand – that not enough people could be bothered to bring their own bottles when out shopping (I hoped it wasn’t the case, even if we’re talking about people on holiday). I speculated that it could be the Greek weights and measures police (or the EU maybe!) closing a loophole that no one knew existed in the world of wine-retailing. Or possibly it was pure economics – that the supermarket made more money from selling bottled wine.

I was wrong in all my speculation! When I finally met the owner, she told me they’d stopped the service for a far more pragmatic (literally down to earth!) reason. Rather than wait to be served, the customers were carelessly filling their own containers and shop staff were constantly having to clear up a wine lake (took me back to the good old days of the EEC – remember the wine lakes and butter mountain?) on the floor; their liquid assets were literally flowing out of the business.

I live in hope that the supermarket owner will see the environmental sense in providing wine by weight and find a way to make it business sense as well – like not letting customers anywhere near the wine taps. We should encourage and support changing attitudes to unnecessary and wasteful food (and drink) packaging. I see that this June Waitrose launched a ‘package free’ trial in one of its stores in Oxford (with prices typically 15% lower than their wrapped cousins) – and this includes four beers and four wines available on tap!

I hope Waitrose can make it work financially, but it certainly makes sense in environmental/ethical terms; they are following a growing trend among small independent retailers. My daughter introduced me to one – Unwrapped in Sheffield – and I left the shop amazed by the ‘magic machine’ that turns whole peanuts into peanut butter with no additives or processing needed. Closer to home, I was pleased to be part of a successful crowdfunding campaign that will see Full Circle Shop in Cambridge expanding their product range and going mobile. Then, only last week, in my home town (Royston) I discovered a friend of many years has just launched Anahata – selling plastic-free, planet-kind products online and through market stalls.  If a former work colleague’s support efforts bear fruit, a new outlet for ‘naked food’ and other household items may soon be opening in Bedford.

Exciting times indeed, so let’s raise a glass to all retailers offering plastic and packaging free products the world over.  The wine-by-weight experience of that Greek supermarket might be a lesson for all bring-your-own container outlets – make sure your customers know how to fill their containers properly. Or maybe it’s only Brits abroad who need to be shown?

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/jun/04/waitrose-launches-packaging-free-trial

https://www.unwrappedshop.co.uk

https://fullcircleshop.co.uk

https://www.facebook.com/anahata.planet

 

Another birthday bucket list – part 1

Two years ago, I shared my dislike for the bucket list idea as it relates to ‘things I must do before dying’. I then went on to share a birthday bucket list of four free/low-cost ‘things I want to do to celebrate my birthday and keep myself out of the NHS for as long as possible’.

This August I’ve decided to come up with another short list of five not-very-challenging (apart from one) ways I plan to exercise my body and brain.

Learn birdsong We’re not talking Radio 4 ‘tweet of the day’ here – I’m not looking to become a global expert! I aim to recognise just the most common UK bird songs, but even then I think I’ll have my work cut out – this link takes you to the songs of 254 UK species https://www.british-birdsongs.uk. Not sure how I’ll test myself – maybe a showdown with my wife who’s pretty knowledgeable on these sorts of things…

Swim 200 lengths in five days No big deal in itself – I get bored with swimming lengths in a pool long before I have to stop (I’m a breast-stroker – none of that exhausting crawl style for me). But I’m taking advantage of five days free swimming – a special offer at our local leisure centre – to push myself to swim further than I would normally do for each of the five consecutive days. And to make it a bit more serious, I’m going to weigh myself before and after and note any effect on my physiology before, during and after – particularly any benefit to my running and sleep at night.

Station to Station run – Norwich to Sparham The swimming will be good preparation for a 14 mile run from Norwich City Centre to Whitwell Station along Marriott’s Way – a former railway track now used for bikes, walkers, horses and… runners. It’s a while since I’ve done that distance and, while it will be on a level surface, it will still be a challenge – an opportunity to apply my mindfulness on the move training!

Learn to use a multimeter I’ve got one of these but have never used it (a long story…) and it seems like the whole world (well, practically-minded friends) knows how to use a multimeter apart from me.  Since you ask, a multimeter is ‘an electronic tool used to measure voltage, amps and resistance across circuits.’ By attaching two leads to different parts of an electrical system you can trouble-shoot electrical equipment that’s not working. I’m hoping my mate Dermot will give me a lesson (in terms I can understand!)

Sleep under the stars This has become an annual event for me and every year I make myself more and more comfortable (must be an age thing…) from thin camping mat, to self-inflating mattress to, this year, an inflatable double mattress that’s already seen action at Latitude Festival. So, no hardship but I do love listening to the nearby sound of nature competing with the far-off traffic noise from the A505 (did I mention the sleep-out is in my back garden?)

Part 2 of this blog will report back to tell you how I’ve got on.

 

My first birthday bucket list  https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2017/07/23/by-birthday-bucket-list-part-1