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

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