How many of you have something electrical or electronic broken at home? Something that not only you don’t only know how to repair yourself, but also don’t know who could repair it for you? Or perhaps, the person who claims they could fix that printer or digital camera is quoting you a price higher than what you would pay for a new device.
I know there is no family who hasn’t experienced one of these situations: perhaps it’s a computer running slow all at a sudden; an iron with a loose connection; a smart-phone not that smart anymore after the screen broke, but other examples abound, everyone has one (or more!). This is why we founded The Restart Project a few months ago: a new London-based social enterprise and charity aiming at changing our relationship with information technologies, by promoting community repair culture in all possible forms.
The organisation facilitates “Restart Parties”, community self-repair events, where all kinds of electronics are taken apart and repaired by owners together with volunteer repairers, with the aim of reducing e-waste, promoting increased lifespan of electronics, sharing repair skills and promoting sustainable and informed consumption of information technologies. Since June last year, we have convened almost 20 events all over London, mostly in all kinds of spaces – public libraries, community libraries, community centres, a pub, an art gallery and a school. Transition initiatives in London have been very supportive: starting with Transition Belsize, then Brixton, Primrose Hill and others interested in hosting such events in the future.
At each event organised, laptops get cleaned and sped-up, printers might receive a second lease of life, digital cameras, mobiles, headphones, as well as vacuum cleaners and electrical shavers are joyfully taken apart, troubleshooted and often fixed on the spot. At times a repair solution is not immediate, but the collective intelligence of participants provides support and tips on procuring needed spare parts and at times finding affordable and reliable commercial repairers who might be able to timely fix the problem. Everyone learns something, and the community keeps growing.
In recent years, we have witnessed a significant focus on the promotion of recycling as the ultimate green option for consumers: too often making it a “feel good” option, helping people to justify giving up on something a bit problematic, and moving on, upgrading, embracing a new, shiny product even when they didn’t need one.
We are inspired by very different models: by repairers like our friend Ephraim Ngali in Nairobi, who has been repairing mobile phones since 2001, and told me during an interview that “people in the UK should also get busy and repair”. We are equally inspired by repair centres in Havana, Cuba, where collectives of repairers get together in a shared space and squeeze another lease of life from all kinds of products. Repair should be given much more visibility and supported: for every product efficiently repaired, not only we reduce waste, but also support local maintenance jobs – truly green jobs, and become more resilient as communities. That’s the main idea of The Restart Project: to create awareness about the power of repair, encouraging people to learn from each other and inspire a new generation of local repair heroes, reducing the footprint of our electronic devices.
Instead, we hear a lot more about debates on the "circular economy", often with a focus on technological fixes easing recycling, disassemble and re-manufacturing of electronics – too often lacking a real questioning of the endless economic growth. Members of The Restart Project concentrate on a “post-growth agenda”, focusing on people and their positive behaviour change as the real, pragmatic solutions to environmental sustainability in the information society.
We know that there are massive environmental and social problems linked to the massive consumption of new laptops, phones, tablets and more – and we are aware that in most cases manufacturers are to blame for the planned obsolescence of these devices: batteries no longer to be substituted by users; memory frequently not upgradeable; ink cartridges designed to make it almost impossible to refill them. We wrote extensively about this reflecting on the most common problems we’ve fixed at our events. By demystifying the technical challenges to open-up, troubleshoot, upgrade and repair the electronic devices we use and already own in our digital lives, The Restart Project inspires an understanding of planned obsolescence, design flaws and highlights alternative opportunities, helping citizens and communities to resist the dominant throw-away consumer culture and focus instead on more frugal consumption models.
Having started with volunteer-run Restart Parties, we are now scaling-up, developing and testing out a number of additional services to help sustain the expansion of the organisation. For example, we’re preparing guidelines and online tools to help other groups start their own Restart ‘nodes’ all over the country and far beyond. In the next few months, we’ll fundraise to establish a global network of Restart Parties and an online platform helping to map and connect all skilled repairers, amateurs or professional, with conveners and participants of Restart Parties. We believe that we can create new opportunities for repairers – especially now, at a time when we urgently need to reinvent the high street by coming up with really useful services for our communities.
We are also engaging with universities, not-for-profit organisations and public libraries to organise repair and maintenance trainings on their behalf, and to run Restart Parties for them, with the aim of bringing a culture of repair in new places and organisations.
Also, we are prototyping new forms of repair services, for example we’re working on a “Repair rickshaw” concept which we would like to see appearing at farmers’ markets all over the place.
The importance of repair and the pragmatic satisfaction we can collectively derive from it, are at the heart of Transition and at the heart of a new resilience in our community. Find out more about The Restart Project on our website: www.therestartproject.org and get in touch to discuss ways to partner up and bring our ideas and concepts to your community.
C0-Founder, The Restart Project