Tag Archives: repair

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

The broken phone

The other day I was travelling to London by train minding my own business; in fact, I was literally minding my own business! I was on my way to StartUp 2019 – a brilliant day of inspiration for would-be entrepreneurs (the subject for a future blog post). I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between a daughter and her dad sitting directly in front of me.

What caught my attention – I don’t listen in to all conversations on trains, you know – was the daughter’s declaration, while looking despondently into the palm of her hand, Cheap phones break easily. It was a profound and articulate observation from someone I’d estimate to be 10-12 years old, and it particularly struck a chord with me as I’m preparing for our 20th community repair session at the Royston Repair Café in February.

There followed a discussion between the girl and her father along the lines of …

G: Will they be able to mend the crack dad?                                                                                                 F: No – they’ll replace the whole screen                                                                                                          G: Will it be the same colour around the edge?                                                                                           F: Probably not, but your case will cover that up                                                                                        G: Will they be able to mend it straight away?                                                                                            F: No – you’ll have to leave it with them for a while                                                                                   G: Oh dear…                                                                                                                                                      F: But we can take out your sim card to use in another phone. First, we should find out how much it will cost to repair – it might be cheaper to get a new one. How much did it cost?                                   G: £135                                                                                                                                                          F: I’ll check out some prices for new phones [says Dad as he looks online on his own phone]               G: [looking over dad’s shoulder] Wow! You can get same day delivery and a special colour with that one.

Despite being impressed by technical specifications which meant nothing to me but clearly made sense to this mature pre-teen (Isn’t 3-D meant to be bad for your eyes? she asked at one point) I was heartened by what she said next…

But I’d want to keep my old phone if my case doesn’t fit a new one – it’s special. By this time the previously attentive father seemed to be more interested in buying a new phone for his daughter than she was.

I’d like to report that the conversation continued as follows…

G: No dad – I’ve decided I want to hang on to this phone – I love it and it does me fine. Getting a new one would be a waste of money and, well… wasteful.                                      F: OK – let’s  get it repaired and [looking at his own phone] amazing – it says here you can take broken phones to a local Repair Café or Restart Party and fixes are free! Or we could go to a website called iFixit and try to repair it ourselves. And there’s even a guide here to repairing cracked phone screens using something called Sugru.

I made up that last bit because, sad to say, the two travellers arrived at their destination and got off the train before me, so I’ll never know what became of that broken phone. But we can all dream, can’t we? It may be all we have to sustain us!

Help make the dream come true – spread the word…

https://therestartproject.org

https://www.ifixit.com

https://sugru.com/tech-gadget/how-to-fix-a-cracked-phone-screen.html

https://repaircafe.org/en

www.facebook.com/RoystonRepairCafe

The story of a broken piano stool

Last Saturday I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours at New Broadcasting House contributing to a BBC World Service radio programme* about Repair Cafes.   These community repair events have gone global since being founded nine years ago by the brilliant Martine Postma in the Netherlands. There are now nearly 1600 Repairs Cafes in 33 countries.

On Saturday morning I had lots of examples of successful fixes ready to share with radio listeners but, as often happens, I only had time to recall a couple. One unshared repair job stands out in my memory; I think it sums up perfectly what the Repair Café concept is all about. In fact, it was my first introduction to a ‘live’ Repair Café, it fired my interest and I’m re-telling it here in the hope it will spark interest in others in the run-up to International Repair Café Week 2018 in mid-October.

Before setting up the Royston Repair Café five years ago, I arranged a visit to one in London at the wonderful Goodlife Centre. Alison Winfield-Chislett, the genius behind the Centre, offered me a cup of tea as I walked through the door and suggested I just ‘get stuck in’, buddying me up with the owner (we’ll call her Sue) of a broken piano stool. This was lucky because, if I have a repair specialism, it’s furniture. I soon learnt that the stool had been broken by Sue’s 16 year old son. She didn’t say he’d ‘lost it’ in the middle of a particularly demanding piano lesson but that was the image in my mind’s eye.

The big thing about the best Repair Cafes is that, where possible, the owners learn how to mend their broken items themselves. After a bit of instruction for Sue, I watched while she dismantled the broken part of the stool – unscrewing the wooden leg from the metal bracket that had held it in place. Sue glued and clamped the leg and, while the glue dried, we drank tea and had a chat with others at the Repair Café – a lot of that goes on at these events.

Back on the job, Sue bent the bracket back into shape and reconnected the broken leg to the main body of the stool, while I had another cup of tea and offered the odd bit of advice. Within about an hour and a half the stool was fixed. The proud smile on Sue’s face made it all worthwhile.

As she left Sue said, almost as an afterthought, “What I didn’t tell you is that my son’s now 21. This piano stool has been broken for five years! I can’t wait to see his face when he sees it in one piece again, he feels very guilty whenever he looks at it. And when he finds out that his mum fixed it…!”

*Programme to be broadcast in October 2018 in the World Hacks series  https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04d42vf

Find out more…

Visit your nearest Repair Cafe https://repaircafe.org/en/visit                                                              International Repair Cafe Week 2018 is 13-21st October https://repaircafe.org/en/international-repair-cafe-week-2018/

Royston Repair Café www.facebook.com/RoystonRepairCafe

 The Goodlife Centre https://www.thegoodlifecentre.co.uk

More blog posts in this Repairing the World series https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/repairing-the-world

Repairing the world

Who said “Waste isn’t waste until we waste it”?

Learning of this clever quote was one of many pleasing things I gained from an event in Cambridge yesterday which could legitimately be said to have a global significance. It’s not every day you can say that about spending nine hours in a church on a wet Saturday in November.

The man associated with the quote is Will.I.Am – someone I associate with a name which I regard as, er… unusual, and whose performances on ‘The Voice’ leaves me cold. In contrast, I’m impressed by his behind-the-scenes activities; the music-man-come- style-celebrity gives his name, time and money to many worthy causes. This includes an international campaign – Fashion Revolution – which aims to sew social, ethical and environmental responsibility into the fabric of the fashion industry.

The essence of the campaign is ‘telling the story’ behind the clothing items that arrive on our high streets and sell at rock bottom prices with, in many cases, scant regard for the people and processes behind their production.

For me, the story behind the product was also at the heart of my uplifting day in Cambridge. It was at an attempt on the record for the World’s Biggest Repair Café – a mass fix of pre-loved and still-wanted broken items – bikes, clothes, electricals, toys, high and low tech kitchen gadgets, gardening equipment, ornaments, phones, laptops, even an umbrella. We were seeking to mend more than 150 items – a record set in France in 2013.

I worked on eight items and was pleased with the result, though many of the fixes where a lot more straight forward than those of my fellow repairers working on more technical problems on either side of me.

There were two garden forks with broken wooden handles (with a combined age of 140 years!) and both deserved more TLC than I could give them in the time I had to work on fixing them. The older of the two was 100 years old – originally owned by the great grandmother of the little girl who attended the Repair Café with her mum. As the current owner said to me “I could get a new fork or replace the wooden handle, but it’s my mother and her mother’s hands that worked the soil with this particular handle – that’s what matters to me.”

Or the 40-year old binoculars case – a wedding present I think – the leather hinge between body and lid worn torn in two from regular use. This is now replaced with some new leather in a cack-handed repair which, while certainly not beautiful, will hopefully keep those binoculars protected for another 40 years.

Or the 25 year-old hand-crafted ornamental wooden horse and carriage from Russia. A cherished memento that needed some refurbishment – new reins for the horse, re-fixing the carriage harness, reconstructing the passenger’s parasol – it’s journey to be recalled and treasured, I hope, for generations to come.

Then there were the little food related highlights – the edible nuts and screws on some lovely biscuits, the wonderful free three-course meals served up from surplus food by Cambridge Foodcycle.

Most important for me is that yesterday was about keeping so many things in use for longer. The eight items I worked on had a combined age of over 227 years. “But did you set a new world record?” I hear you ask. It doesn’t really matter but, yes, we did – with over 200 items fixed – we well and truly broke it and so, of course, we now need to repair it…

Further photos at  https://www.facebook.com/roystonrepaircafe/photos/a.709787542553843.1073741847.168583403340929/709787559220508/?type=3&theater

Fashion Revolution http://fashionrevolution.org

20 reads about repairing, sharing and reusing

The ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ of cutting waste, saving money and fixing the planet

If you have problems with downloading, copy and paste link in your browser

 

The Fixer’s Manifesto http://repaircafe-esslingen.de/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/sugru_manifesto.pdf   

How to run a Repair Café  http://circularcambridge.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/How-to-run-a-Repair-Cafe-updated-12April16.pdf and www.instructables.com/id/Host-a-Repair-Cafe

Keep the date – FixFest 2017 https://therestartproject.org/community/fixfest

Repair and Share Guide: profiles of 6 inspirational organisation keeping things in use for longer, plus with top tips for setting up your own http://cfsd.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Repair_and_Share_PRINT.pdf

 

What is a library of things?  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNca7UVW6g4   

Citizen-driven repair: research sources www.cfsd.org.uk/research including a global survey of Repair Cafes

Eco guide to the repair economy www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/02/the-eco-guide-to-the-repair-economy?

A Greenpeace guide to the repair-ability of your mobile device www.greenpeace.org/eastasia/Global/eastasia/publications/reports/toxics/2017/howrepairableisyourmobiledevice.pdf  

Care and repair – your clothes http://loveyourclothes.org.uk/care-repair

Farnham Repair Café YouTube channel www.youtube.com/channel/UCkzO-v8mM-TeEf_dFqV5pCw

UK Funding for local waste reduction http://ciwm-journal.co.uk/funding-boost-councils-target-weee-reuse

Join the campaign against product obsolescence  www.rethink-it.org sign the petition and check out your product

DIY repair guides:

www.patagonia.com/worn-wear-repairs

www.wikihow.com/wikiHowTo?search=Repair

www.instructables.com/howto/repair

www.ifixit.com/Guide

 

Reduce, reuse, recycle www.epa.gov/recycle

20 Simple ways to live more lightly https://theconsciousvegan.wordpress.com/2017/07/07/20-small-ways-to-make-a-big-difference  [photo]

The forgotten R … repair https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/the-forgotten-r-reduce-reuse-recycle-and-repair 

 

 

List compiled August 2017 by Chris Lee. Royston Repair Café  www.facebook.com/RoystonRepairCafe

Thanks to Prof Martin Charter www.linkedin.com/in/martin-charter-frsa-6289097/?ppe=1           http://cfsd.org.uk/events/farnham_repair_cafe

The accidental fixer

vac-inspectionIt says much about the kind of people who attend Repair Café events (and many return because they enjoy the experience so much) that Peter Howarth turned up to a recent repair session in Royston, Hertfordshire, with his broken vacuum cleaner and ended up fixing someone else’s instead!

I wanted to find out a bit about the man behind this generous act, this is what I found out…

Have you always been interested in repairs? 

No, not in repairs exactly; it’s more about being interested in finding out how things work… as well as in the general challenge of solving problems of course.

Did you have any formal training?        

No, though as a teenager growing up in Lancaster, I used to work in my dad’s farm and garden equipment business on Saturdays and during school holidays. This included machinery sales, servicing and repairs, so I had quite a lot of ‘on-the-job’ exposure to practical problem-solving, with things like lawnmowers, cultivators and milking machines. 

In general, are you a practical person? 

Yes, I guess so. However, I think my interest mainly comes from inquisitiveness. From an early age I used to take things apart to see how they worked… and (happily) I gradually got better at putting them back together again. 

This was not without a few hiccups along the way though…  I remember years ago investigating the family video recorder after a tape got stuck, which is probably an experience best forgotten… It took me the best part of the weekend to get it back in working order, and tapes still stuck afterwards!

Also of course, when growing up, I had to service and repair my own bikes and cars to save some cash, so you learn as you go along. I must admit though, that today’s cars have many more electronic ‘black boxes’ and computerised engine management components under the bonnet, so they are not as straightforward to repair for the interested ‘home mechanic.’

vac-fix-success

At the recent Royston Repair Café session, how did you end up helping someone else fix their vacuum cleaner, but not your own?! 

I brought along my machine after starting to repair it because I realised it had a clutch problem and thought there may be someone there with more experience of the servicing routine.

However, while I was waiting my turn, I saw a chap with another vacuum cleaner who had been waiting for a while and asked if he’d like me to take a look at it for him. He was happy for me to take it apart to run some tests and happily we managed to find the cause of his problem and get it up and running again. I enjoyed doing something practical and he was able to return a working machine to his daughter – a good result all round!

Has the experience whetted your appetite to be a volunteer repairer at the next Royston Repair Café on February 5th?

Yes, there’s a lot of satisfaction in making something work that has previously been a ‘dead duck’ and it’s great to keep things out of landfill if they can be mended. 

Also, during the working week I’m a freelance marketing consultant who helps people to grow their businesses, so the Repair Cafe was a complete change from the day job and it was really good fun to be a member of the team.

Further information:

Royston Repair Cafe: http://www.facebook.com/RoystonRepairCafe                                              Peter Howarth and his business: http://uk.linkedin.com/in/peterhowarth

Keeping the past alive

Guest blog from Kathy Wilson, Royston Repair Cafe volunteer

IMG_0051Sometimes items arriving for repair at the Royston Repair Café are from a bygone era. This was certainly the case on Sunday 24th April 2016, when Naomi Wallen brought her grandfather’s 50-year-old Ekco Transistor Radio, which didn’t seem to tune into any modern radio stations.

Naomi fondly remembers the radio always on whenever she visited her grandfather’s house as a child, and expressed how lovely it would be to have it working again.

The volunteer repairers were clearly excited with the prospect of taking apart something so old and doing their best to get it working again. Because there are usually lots of owners bringing in broken goods, normally only one volunteer repairer can look at each item. But this was special, so next thing at least three repairers were eagerly bent over the partially dismantled radio, all giving their views on what the problem could be.

IMG_0050Most of the volunteers remember happily taking apart and putting back together all manner of items when they were young, which gave them a good grounding in ‘how things work’. After approximately 90 minutes, they managed to fix the radio to the point of picking up stations, but not completely clearly. They realised it was a matter of replacing one part, and the radio would work fully again!

There’s definitely a sense of satisfaction in repairing something, or at least attempting to do so. It’s not just that repairers feel a sense of personal satisfaction, but having fixed something, we feel we’re helping, in our little way, to overcome manufacturer planned-obsolescence and the concept of the ‘throw-away society’. And in the case of the transistor radio, we’ve given Naomi new memories to make.

Radio Fix success

Get updates on the Royston Repair Café at www.facebook.com/roystonrepaircafe