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Have You Heard About Repair Cafés?

It’s an international movement launched in the Netherlands. According to the Repair Café Foundation, there are now more than 950 repair cafés worldwide with 18 in the UK. Repair cafés offer individuals with ‘fixing’ expertise to come together to perform a useful service for their community, while enjoying the camaraderie of friends and neighbors. Inspired by presentations and followup surveys conducted at the ‘Makers and Fixers’ conference, in June 2014, my own Centre for Sustainable Design ® at the University for the Creative Arts in conjunction with Transition Town Farnham, decided to launch a repair café in Farnham Surrey, UK. Supported by a steering board that includes a range of technical and management experience, it is funded through donations at events and ad hoc grants. Here’s what we’re learning at the Farnham Repair Café.

What a Repair Café Offers to Farnham

Farnham Repair Café offers a space to ‘re-craft’ products and provides an opportunity to practice haptic (hand-to-head) skills and complete technical fixes to broken gadgets, alongside experimenting with new ideas to produce art and products from waste through upcycling. FRC also offers a place to socialize and network, and fits in well with Farnham’s identity as a crafts town.

More specifically, Farnham Repair Café offers a monthly ‘Place and Space’ for Farnham’s citizens to come and get products fixed and to ‘share in the repair’. It was launched in February 2015 and, as at January 2016, 11 sessions have been organized with 433 attendees.

104 Items and Counting Have Been Fixed at the Farnham Repair Cafe

To date, 178 products have been brought to the Farnham Repair Cafe and 104 have been fixed at repair stations covering electronics, mechanicals, bicycles, textiles (e.g. clothing/apparel) and furniture representing a 58% repair rate and 388 kg of material diverted from landfill. This has included specific repairs to vacuum cleaners, head phones, lights, hats, jackets, bags, baby strollers and bicycles. Electrical/electronics and textile-related products have been the
most repaired items.

A Zone for Creativity at the Farnham Repair Cafe

Farnham Repair Café has been primarily focused on repairs but there is also scope for creativity. Broken consumer products can be brought to the ‘creative zone’. As part of the creative process, FRC encourages town residents and students to experiment and explore new ideas around upcycling of products – re-assembling product parts for a new intended purpose or for an improved function.

A ‘Share the Repair’ Philosophy Guides the Farnham Repair Cafe

Image RemovedProduct owners visiting Farnham Repair Café either have the opportunity to have their broken products repaired or are given advice on how to repair or recycle them. Volunteer repairers value the opportunity of sharing their knowledge and skills with local townspeople.

Central to FRC is the ‘Share the Repair’ #ShareRepair (twitter hashtag) philosophy that encourages all product owners to participate in the repair process and learn how to do repairs themselves. A successful repair should increase the useful lifetime of a product and therefore divert waste from landfill. If the repair is beyond the capability or capacity of the Repair Café, product owners will receive advice on how and where their product may be repaired or recycled. The aim is for the product owners to come away with a greater understanding of how their product works and why repairing is a better solution than recycling or binning it!

Cooperating with Local Farnham Businesses

Farnham Repair Café also aims to cooperate with local repair businesses by acting as a supportive hub offering access to those local repair businesses and encouraging them to get involved directly as volunteers in the Farnham Repair Café to help promote their business. It is hoped that FRC will become a catalyst for a more efficient and robust repair ecosystem in Farnham by providing a useful intervention in the waste stream that presently does not exist.

How Does The Farnham Cafe Work?

Product owners bring their broken products to the Farnham Repair Café and then explain the problem to volunteer repairers. Then the product owners are directed to appropriate repair stations where diagnosis is undertaken, advice is given and repairs are completed where feasible. Farnham Repair Café operates every second Saturday of the month from 10.00am to 12.30pm. It is hoped that regular monthly activity establishes a familiar pattern for visitors perhaps linked to a Saturday morning shop or visit to the town.

What ‘Repairers’ Say

It’s been exciting and gratifying to see the response from the Farnham community – the residents who ‘get back’ their proverbial toaster or lawnmower, and also, to give the ‘repairers’ the opportunity to use their skills and to come together to provide a useful service to neighbors and community. Here are a few quotes from some of the folks who repair for us.

My very first repair was a hardly used electric lawnmower. Other FRC volunteers gathered around eagerly and helped disassemble the gleaming machine to find a snapped drive belt. An internet search and a phone call located a suitable replacement and the mower sprung back to life bringing a big smile to our faces. I thought to myself; it’s always good to save a life even when it’s a lawnmower’s!

-Steve Privett

Last month a guy returned to the repair café with his toaster and mentioned that he had managed to shorten three pairs of trousers on his own and proudly displayed the pair he was wearing. I had previously shown him how to use a sewing machine to neaten the raw edge after we had cut off the hem and show him how to hem without a ridge showing.

-Sheila Musson

My favourite repair was to a broken concertina-type clothes-drying rack.  The solution was to discard the broken bits, reconfigure the good bits, and we ended up with a less tall drying rack.  The owner was pleased because it had originally been too tall and prone to fall over.  So we diverted 75% of the metal from landfill, and improved the design and functionality as well. 

“What I really enjoy is hearing the stories about why the visitor wishes to prolong the life of their items … often a good ‘yarn’ accompanies the repair, to explain why the item is so treasured”

-Pippa Ward

I’ve really enjoyed working on numerous sewing machines … often accompanied by “this machine used to belong to my mum and when I told her I wanted to start sewing she gave it to me”.  The problems are usually simple to fix and it was great to see so many people taking up sewing with such enthusiasm.

-David Ward

An elderly chap bought in a DVD player where the tray wouldn’t come out. After stripping down, lack of lubrication revealed a mechanical lock on the mechanism. I freed it off, and voila! — all working. On another occasion, a couple bought in an ancient CD/Radio where the on/off button wouldn’t do it’s job. After stripping down (not easy) I found that the on/off button had become detached from the mechanism inside to impact on the circuit board switch, so I suggested using a rubber tipped pencil in place of the fitted switch. It worked a treat and they were ecstatic that they had their old radio back.

-Clive Handy

Resources for Starting A Repair Cafe in Your Community

Want to start a repair café in your community? Here are some resources that you might find helpful. Feel free to contact me as well if I can help you personally.

Download these resources:

Global Repair Café and Hackerspaces research summary

Full report

Watch this video:

(Teaser Image: By Ilvy Njiokiktjien – Stichting Repair Café, CC BY-SA 3.0,