Tag Archives: skills

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

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Green and Grey – A Christmas Gift Guide

green-grey-logoThis is a shameless plug for the work of some of the wonderful people I met at the Festival of Thrift in Redcar back in September. We share a passion for taking reclaimed materials – other people’s waste – and turning them into festival-of-thrift-logostylish, quality products. Some are functional, some are artful, all are crafted with care for the environment and recognise the charm of the old (green and grey … geddit?) Thoughtful gifts created by makers who know the true meaning of value.


Purepallets founder and son http://www.remadeinbritain.com/purepallets/ with a small selection of there lovely stuff

Purepallets founder and son http://www.remadeinbritain.com/purepallets/ with a small selection of their lovely stuff

101 uses for an old washing machine drum from www.upcycled-cumbria.co.uk/

101 uses for an old washing machine drum from www.upcycled-cumbria.co.uk/

 

 

Upcycled cycle parts -discover your inner tube with www.veloculture.co.uk

Upcycling -discover your inner tube with www.veloculture.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are you a budding Seasick Steve? Diddley Bros can help www.diddleybros.co.uk

Are you a budding Seasick Steve? Diddley Bros can help www.diddleybros.co.uk

 

 

 

 

A sunny serenade from Mr Spatchcock (or was it Mr Wurzill?) www.spatchcockand wurzill.com

A sunny serenade from Mr Spatchcock (or is that Mr Wurzill?) www.spatchcockandwurzill.com

 

 

Ten green bottles (with candles) from www.upcycleupnorth.co.uk

Ten green bottles (with candles) from www.upcycleupnorth.co.uk

 

Small really is beautiful when you're a Beady Magpie www.beadymagpie.wordpress.com/

Small really is beautiful when you’re a Beady Magpie www.beadymagpie.wordpress.com/

Brilliant birdfeeders from BerryBootique https://www.facebook.com/BerryBootique/

Brilliant birdfeeders from Berry Bootique https://www.facebook.com/BerryBootique/

Drinks cans to artworks by Sarah Turner http://sarahturner.co.uk/

Drinks cans to artworks by Sarah Turner I like the can-do attitude! http://sarahturner.co.uk/

 

 

 

 

 

 

A balanced approach to wine drinking with www.gwkwoodshed.org.uk

A balanced approach to wine drinking with www.gwkwoodshed.org.uk

 

 

See you at the Festival of Thrift in 2017? www.festivalofthrift.co.uk

See you at the Festival of Thrift in 2017? www.festivalofthrift.co.uk

From tabletop to laptop – Recover

Latest in the More Expert by Experience series. For other profiles, see http://bit.ly/1rd75hZ

Recover logoWhen I last spoke to Ian Block about his business plan, he’d three years to achieve self-funding from sales of quality upcycled pre-loved furniture. At that time (February 2014) Recover – the social enterprise he leads in Welwyn Garden City – was one year old. I wondered how the three year plan had progressed over the previous two years.

“Our mission has remained the same throughout” confirms Ian “It’s about helping people reintegrate and get themselves worthwhile employment that will stay with them, and help them to be the best they can be; that they feel fulfilled and their lives are worthwhile.”

I asked whether there had been any surprises – good or bad. Continuing the theme of benefiting the volunteers, Ian points to success at the rate at which people have gained and used new skills. Recover has helped raise expectations to the stage where, says Ian, most volunteers are keen to progress.

Looking back, Recover have learnt some hard lessons about the reality of working with people who are furthest from the jobs market. One lesson is a well-known ‘problem of success’ for many social enterprises – that the most capable and productive unemployed volunteers move to paid jobs – an occupational hazard! And for those that remain…

Recover people and products

“There are a broader range of issues facing our volunteers than we anticipated. Their lives are complicated and it takes more time and support for people to move on and stay moved on, particularly when they are older or have lower self-esteem.”

“We thought that the majority of volunteers would progress relatively quickly and then help run Recover. But once out of treatment, when they come to us, the original problems may resurface; they need a lot of hand-holding to develop a sense of self-worth.”   

The first step, of what is often a long journey, is turning up on a regular basis – establishing some structure and routine. Recover offers work and life skills development through refurbishing quality, high-end furniture and Ian doesn’t underestimate the challenge.

“We’re not making sandwiches here – the work takes skill, concentration, focus, practice creativity, Recover recoveringtechnique. We’ve developed methods, systems and processes to keep it as simple as possible, but it still takes a lot of time to teach and embed the learning.”

The intensity of the hands-on support for volunteers means that Ian is finding it harder to balance the books from sales than he’d anticipated. Recover is currently aiming for 50% of income from sales and 50% from funding.

The biggest single development over the past 12 months has been the transition to independence from Recover’s parent charity. Recover is now a Company Limited by Guarantee and Registered Charity in its own right. This means more paperwork as back office functions are taken in-house, including insurance, funding applications, and reporting to the new directors.

Despite the increased demands on his time, Ian is clear about what matters “My priorities are supporting our team and making money. The backroom work has to be fitted in around that. Reporting alone could become a fulltime job if you let it – I started out working on dining tables, now I spend a lot of time on computerised tables!”

Looking ahead, it’s about finding the right balance between growth and consolidation. For Ian the books must balance to keep the doors open. Recover aspires to raise their 50:50 funding/earning ratio to 100% income from trading, but wisely he doesn’t set a date for this.

In the meantime, Recover are getting to grips with pricing – an issue for many social enterprises and an area where Ian is learning fast ‘what works’.

                                                                     Ian gets hands on

“We’re educating people about value – the quality and cost of our work. We’ve been  able to reduce prices as we’ve got better  and faster at refurbishment. The pieces   that we turn into ‘artisan one-of- kind items’ are well-priced compared with mass produced generic flat pack furniture from economy high street chain stores. Items     we don’t refurbish are sold at considerably lower prices than charity shops. Sometimes, we just ask people on low income for a donation that suits their budget.”

Another ‘problem of success’ – in addition to losing the most capable volunteers – relates to Recover’s high profile (“done without any paid advertising” adds Ian proudly).  The two staff members are finding increased demands on their time – from media people, businesses (all support welcome!) and statutory sector staff.

A timely reminder that I’ve taken over an hour of Ian’s time. As I leave, he joins his team for lunch which, he tells me, will be a main meal of the day for some. Yes – two years on from our original meeting, the strengths and values of Recover are still very much in evidence.

 Further information and contact:

http://www.recoverteam.co.uk https://www.facebook.com/recoverteam.co.uk https://twitter.com/RecoverTeam

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/02/19/the-art-of-adding-value (February 2014)

 

 

Learning to be Mr Fixit at a Repair Cafe

Charlie Hull Mr FixitGuest blog from charliejuggler

While I was growing up my father would try to fix almost anything (I have happy memories of stripping down and rebuilding an elderly Suffolk Punch lawnmower with him, aged about 7) and at home I try to do the same. In the last few months I’ve replaced the heater elements on our cooker, patched up a few toys and rebuilt a greenhouse.

I’ve been looking into how I might help at a Repair Cafe – an event where people can bring anything that needs fixing, from lawnmowers to ornaments to cameras, to a community hall where volunteers will have a go at a repair. The idea is to reduce landfill and re-use items where possible, and help those who don’t have the confidence, skills or experience to have a go themselves.

This Sunday I went to Royston to help out at their event. My score card reads as follows:

  • Black and Decker mains power drill – replaced the brushes, tested the switch, got it running but only slowly and noisily, discovered the motor armature was missing a piece which was happily trashing the new brushes, deemed it unrepairable. FAIL.
  • Digital camera which had been dropped, distorting the lens so it wouldn’t retract – took it to pieces (many, many teeny tiny screws) but it seems the lens unit is a single piece and hard to disassemble (not that I could remove it from the camera). FAIL. (note the same chap brought in both these items but seemed happy with the results, as at least he can get rid of the items now!)
  • Small lava lamp. Stupid moulded un-rewirable plug and inline switch (when I’m President of the World I shall legislate that everything should be held together with screws so you can take it apart). Tested and seemed that power was getting to the bulb holder, but neither bulb the owner had would work, so advised her to buy another. SUCCESS (if she gets a bulb that works).
  • Cast-iron clothes iron, used as an ornament. The handle had been damaged and many repairs attempted with Superglue but this hadn’t worked, so I cleaned off all the old glue, replaced a pin holding the metal and wooden parts of the handle together and re-glued it with two-part epoxy resin then strapped up with tape for drying: SUCCESS (if it held together all the way home).
  • I also consulted (which means hovered over other people’s repairs, making hopefully useful suggestions) – the most impressive repair was an old radio which needed a potentiometer taking apart and cleaning, the young lady was very pleased her grandpa’s radio was making a noise again.

I didn’t have my own toolkit, so had to borrow the cafe’s own donated one – it’s always difficult when you don’t have quite the tools you need but I got by. It was a fun morning and well organised – if not, these events could easily turn into a bunch of (generally) middle-aged men talking about their favourite spanners – not that I wouldn’t join in I suspect!

Hopefully I’ll be involved in a more local event soon – there’s talk of a roving event for the villages south of Cambridge.

With thanks to https://charliejugglerblog.wordpress.com

Repair Shed Star – Bob

The Repair Shed brings older men (and women) together to stay healthier and happier for longer by making, mending and learning. Member profiles are based on recorded interviews by evaluator Nick Parsons

IMG_7958“Even when I’m out shopping for clothes with my partner, which I used to hate, I now look at the display units and think what we could make in the Shed”

Bob, Repair Shed member since July 2015

I really enjoy making things from wood. My background is in all aspects of computing – hardware and software. I’ve helped the odd shed member with their IT problems, but in fact getting away from computing and making things is really so relaxing and rewarding. Its learning old skills again that I learnt at school.

I come into the workshop every week, but also help on other days in the community. I helped with refurbishing an outdoor metal play train at a nursery, and went out to look at a lady’s kitchen which needed some work.

The Shed group works well – I like meeting other people. But it’s important to see others who may not be integrating so well, pair up and involve them.

Making something that was defunct work again is rewarding. I also get a buzz out of making something out of a pallet that would otherwise be scrapped. I’m now making things at home – always thinking about new ideas for things. Even when I’m out shopping for clothes with my partner, which I used to hate, I now look at the display units and think what we could make in the Shed. In the more ‘arty’ shops that have things made out of wood – I think – we could make something like that. I sometimes take photos to study back at home. Even my partner has started to look at things and suggest ideas for me!

I feel good, happy to be here meeting people. I always go away from a session with more information and understanding than when I arrived which is good. Everybody has experiences of life that they are happy to share. Having been out of work for three years, being in the Shed shows a commitment on my part and is a real boost to my confidence.

More about The Repair Shed at:

www.facebook.com/TheRepairShed                                www.communityactiondacorum.org/The-Repair-Shed

Repair Shed Star – Seamus

The Repair Shed brings older men (and women) together to stay healthier and happier for longer by making, mending and learning. Member profiles are based on recorded interviews by evaluator Nick Parsons

Seamus“I hope I’ll be coming here until they put me on a boat and send me down the canal!”  Seamus, Repair Shed member since June 2014

I have had mixed fortunes in my life that have meant my circumstances have changed quite a bit over the years. I was one of the people who used to get people in to do work – I had a lot of people working for me. When you lose that, you lose the confidence. At the moment I’m unemployed.

I’m always at The Repair Shed on Thursdays. I lend my hand to anything – I’m involved in woodwork, electrics, and the Community Repair Days. The whole idea is great – I’ve discovered skills I didn’t know I had and made things I didn’t think I could.

I’m a team player – this gives me the opportunity to meet people; the Shed gets me out. We are skilled people – it is great to see people using those skills again. I hope I will be coming here until they put me on a boat and send me down the canal!

All the people here are great guys – you come here, you have to interact, and you realise what other people’s lives are like. It’s not too intense. People are thinking how to use their brains again, and to problem-solve. For instance, we have to do such-and-such a project, so how are we going to do it? … Your brain could die if it’s not used. Coming to The Repair Shed makes me use my brain.

IMG_7606Let’s face it – if you can go somewhere, laugh a little, do some work, and do something for the community, what can be better – it’s wonderful.                 

More about The Repair Shed at           www.facebook.com/TheRepairShed      www.communityactiondacorum.org/The-Repair-Shed

GAP Learning – a growing family

Latest in the new More Expert by Experience series

Teresa and AmandaNearly 18 months after graduating from the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Ipswich, I discover that fellow fellows Amanda Page and Teresa Crickmar are sisters. Well I only studied alongside them for 12 months… There has also been a wedding, but more about that later.

When I first interviewed the two sisters separately, almost exactly two years ago, they were developing two different social enterprises – FullSpoon (Amanda) and Craftworks (Teresa). I hadn’t a clue they planned to work so closely together to launch GAP Learning, but then I’ve discovered there’s a lot I didn’t know about them.

The Craftworks and FullSpoon courses are still happy and healthy* but they have now been gathered under one roof – GAP Learning (a Community Interest Company) with a new upstart moving in – She Loves Him Tho’. GAP stands for Generating Alternative Possibilities with a mission to reach out and get people at biggest disadvantage into education, training and employment through volunteering and learning.

As Amanda explains, that learning includes “a free five-week ‘Healthy Eating on a Budget’ FullSpoon course which includes food safety, budgeting, reducing food waste and cooking.” In comparison, Teresa describes Craftwork’s training as “A mini product design course, getting people talking, thinking about a stress-free life, thinking about learning and gaining new skills by making beautiful products to sell, with an option to set up in business.”

gap logo

Working with ‘hard to motivate’ learners can be exhausting but, for both sisters, this makes the small and large breakthroughs all the more rewarding. “It’s the elation of anything from a learner eventually ‘getting it’, to prising someone out of bed in the morning!”

Like nervous parents with fast-growing children, Amanda and Teresa don’t like to see their learners leave when the courses come to an end, so they offer them lots of progression routes instead. And, like teenagers who don’t really want to leave the comfort of home, some of the learners are only too happy to stay on!

Teresa explains “Once a course has finished, around 20% of graduates sign up to stay on for work experience with, for example, our partners at the local Love Food, Hate Waste project. Some graduates progress to paid roles for a few hours a week and also volunteer with GAP Learning.” Amanda elaborates “Two learners are now tutors, having been trained at Cambridge Regional College. Other part-time roles include administration, design and social media. Then there are one-off volunteering opportunities like event management.”

GAP learning 1Craftworks Rocks is their latest innovation, with young men being trained to make stylish pallet-wood boxes to store and display crafted magnets made by other learners and sold to the public. The plan is to locate the boxes in coffee shops and retail outlets nationally with income being used to pay the producers for more magnets, and to subsidise the courses to keep them free to learners.  Craftworks Rocks was the focus for a recent crowdfunding campaign which raised enough to launch the initiative to meet early demand for the boxes and magnets.

She loves him tho picIt was a ‘Social Venture Weekend’ at Cambridge Judge Business School and a wedding that sparked the latest addition to the GAP Learning family. Amanda was getting married and as she recalls     “I realised there was nowhere that creative people could have the fun of crafting their own wedding items – making rings and other jewellery, designing and printing invitations and menus, decorating shoes.” ‘She loves him tho’ was conceived “It’s a programme of workshops for brides, grooms and their relatives to create a bespoke ethical wedding range that helps make someone else’s life better.”

Amid such change and growth, has Amanda and Teresa’s mission also changed?

“No” says Teresa (like all close sisters, I realise one often speaks on behalf of them both) “Our mission has stayed the same – we want clear positive change through group learning for people with challenges. We’ve put some boundaries on who we work with and, even if we can’t really afford to, we’ll sometimes say  ‘no’ because of our strong values.” 

Building the team has also meant that Teresa and Amanda have had to learn how to manage – both people and processes. “Because we’re now paying people we have to equate our own time and theirs when costing items. We have to set targets and deadlines and it helps them that we’re clearer about expectations. We’re training them for the world of work so time management and good discipline are important.”

“For our part we have to be more realistic about how long things take, get a grip on cash-flow (were learning how payments can lag behind sales) and remind ourselves that unlike the understanding between the two of us, other people can’t read our minds!

As our conversation comes to an end, I ask what’s on the horizon. I admire social entrepreneurs who are self-aware and confident enough to admit their weaknesses alongside trumpeting their successes. Amanda and Teresa are upfront about their needs; funding and financial management are next on their to-do list.  Sounds like a good topic for a new GAP Learning course…

*The health of Craftworks is shown by a recent Social Return on Investment (SROI) calculation showing that for every £1 invested, the service creates £60 in social value. More at http://www.gaplearning.co.uk/documents/SRoI_Report.pdf

Further reading:

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/putting-a-price-on-hidden-talent (Craftworks, February 2014)

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/fast-food-for-hungry-learners (Full Spoon, March 2014)

Follow Amanda and Teresa on Twitter: @GAPlearning, Facebook: GAPLearningCIC , and at http://www.gaplearning.co.uk  and www.sheloveshim.co.uk