Repair Café: A concept that hopefully catches on all over

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Trust the Dutch to come up with a great idea of waste reduction yet again and it is an idea that should find followers everywhere.

What do you do with a chair when the leg has come loose? With a toaster that no longer works? Or a woollen jumper with moth holes? Toss it? No way!

The problem is that far too many people do and that for more than one reason, but the two main ones being that they cannot repair it themselves as they either lack the skills or the tools and also because so many things today can no longer be repaired as they have been designed so that they cannot.

However, there may be an answer to our waste problem and that is the Repair Café. If something can be repaired you can, more than likely, repair it at the Repair Café.

Repair Cafés are free meeting places and they are all about repairing things (together). In the place where a Repair Café is located, you will find tools and materials to help you make any repairs you need, whether on clothes, furniture, electrical appliances, bicycles, crockery, appliances, toys, etc. You will also find repair specialists such as electricians, seamstresses, carpenters and bicycle mechanics in those Repair Cafés.

Visitors can bring their broken items from home and together with the specialists they start making their repairs in the Repair Café. It is an ongoing learning process and if you have nothing to repair, you can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee. Or you can lend a hand with someone else’s repair job. You can also get inspired at the reading table – by leafing through books on repairs and DIY.

Why a Repair Café?

We throw away vast amounts of stuff in Europe and other developed countries of the world. We even throw things out that have almost nothing wrong with them at all and which could be given a new lease on life with often just a simple repair.

The trouble is, however, that lots of people have forgotten that they can repair things themselves or they no longer know how. Knowing how to make repairs is a skill that becomes quickly lost when everything is mass produced and cheap and because of low costs easy to replace. So people go and buy new rather than repairing.

Society doesn’t always show much appreciation for the people who still have this practical knowledge, and against their will they are often left standing on the sidelines. Their experience is never used, or hardly ever.

Repair Café is changing all that! People who might otherwise be sidelined are getting involved again. Valuable practical knowledge is getting passed on. Things are being used for longer and don’t have to be thrown away. This reduces the volume of raw materials and energy needed to make new products. It cuts CO2 emissions, for example, because manufacturing new products and recycling old ones causes CO2 to be released.

Repair Café teaches people to see their possessions in a new light and, once again, to appreciate their value. Repair Café helps change people’s mindset. This is essential to kindle people’s enthusiasm for a sustainable society. But most of all, Repair Café just wants to show how much fun repairing things can be, and how easy it often is.

But aren't Repair Cafés competing with professional repairers?

This is often a question that, so I understand, the Repair Café Foundation is also asked sometimes and the answer is that that is not meant to be the case despite the free repair get-togethers.

It is the aim of the Repair Cafés across the whole of the Netherlands, and hopefully the idea is going to spread further afield, to focus attention on the possibility of getting things repaired and visitors are often advised to go to the few professional repairers that are still about. They are, however, very few indeed nowadays.

Furthermore, people who visit Repair Cafés are not usually customers of repair specialists. They say that they normally throw away broken items because paying to have them repaired is, in general, too expensive, which is true. In Repair Café they learn that you don’t have to throw things away; there are alternatives. And the alternatives are to do it oneself which means that only spare parts cost money and you don't get charged labor costs.

Now let's just hope that this idea is going to catch on everywhere...

© 2012