A Repair Café is a pop up event where people bring their broken and damaged belongings and local experts will sit down with them and do their best to repair them. It’s all about bringing people together, connecting local people in their communities with others who are happy to share their skills and knowledge, saving people money and reducing the amount of material that ends up in our landfills. There’s an international movement of repair cafes which began in the Netherlands in 2009. Auckland’s North Shore had its first Repair Café, the second in New Zealand, at Bayswater School yesterday.
The event was made possible through an innovative, developing piece of work called Shore to Thrive, a partnership project between the Takapuna Methodist Church and Auckland North Community and Development. It’s all about developing strengths based and community led approaches to improving the wellbeing of communities on Auckland’s North Shore. At its heart it asks the question of how can caring and connected communities come together and have a positive influence on some of the complex issues effecting the lives of local people.
Through local community conversations connected to Shore to Thrive there emerged this great opportunity related to the spirit of the work. A partnership developed between Shore to Thrive and Global Action Plan Aotearoa, the team who run the Devonport Community Recycling Centre. GAPO committed to providing technical support, staffing, equipment and services with Stephen McLuckie, Shore to Thrive Coordinator, delivering community engagement and event management and coordination.
A considerable amount of time, approximately two days a week for six-seven weeks, went into the development and then planning and coordination of this event. Time was spent time inspiring and recruiting skilled local volunteers. Quickly joining the team was Bruno, a retired electrician, then there was Megan, a keen seamstress and Bayswater School mum, there was Jamie, the owner of a local woodworking business, Dale Kelly from the Takapuna Methodist Church volunteered and organized the involvement of others from the congregation. Monique through her experience at a local Playcentre was keen to run a space so that children could get involved. It really seemed to tap into something and many more followed. A free venue was secured at Bayswater School thanks to enthusiastic principal, Lindsay Child. Once people were familiarized with the idea a substantial proportion bought into the concept and volunteered to be involved. As well as being generous with their time and expertise all volunteers committed to bringing along their own tools to support the event.
Once a core group had become involved and it became clearer what kind of repairs were going to be possible on the day, planning and promotion began in earnest. Word of the event was spread through local press, social media, via word of mouth and a flyer drop to around 600 local homes. This resulted in more enthusiastic volunteers as well as enquiries from people asking whether their item might be fixed. Local retailers committed to supplying the event with materials such as nails, screws, spools of thread, zips, etc.
It seemed to have a wide ranging appeal for a diverse group of people, both those for whom the environment and sustainability are important but also those who are motivated by thriftiness and reducing waste. By the time the event took place there were so many offering to volunteer that people had to go on a waiting list.
It was felt that in order to provide peace of mind with regards to safety around the repair of electrical items a registered appliance serviceperson’s expertise needed to be secured for the event. This serviceperson could then sign off on the work of the volunteer electrical experts involved. This was done through Envision managed Resource Rescue.
After such success in recruiting people to help there was something of a nervous wait to see if people would actually turn up on the day with items to be repaired. The event though was a great success and it was all made possible by the amazing skills and generosity of local people and the fact that they were so willing to share their talents and expertise to help those around them. There was a team of clothes repairers, electrical appliance repairers, someone to fix furniture and wooden items, bike mechanics, general repairers and even someone who was prepared to offer advice on car and motorcycle maintenance.
Visitors bringing an item along for repair were encouraged to register their item for repair at the reception desk at the main entry into the school hall on arrival. At this point they were familiarized with the spirit of the event and the process for having their item seen by a volunteer expert. They were encouraged to fill in a short form indicating the item and what was at fault. They were then asked to take this and their item to the most appropriate of the five different repair areas. While waiting to sit down with a repairer guests were invited to have a drink/biscuit and mix and mingle with other guests and visitors. There were various visual displays and ways of connecting while waiting. The Children’s Repair Café area provided a way of engaging youngsters in the event and also simultaneously keeping them away from the tools and equipment in the hall. When it was their time for their item to be looked at guests were asked to sit down with the repairer. This was a deliberate strategy to promote engagement and connection and maximize the opportunity for people to learn how their items could be fixed themselves as far as was practicable.
29 out of the 50 items brought along on the day were successfully repaired. The most popular areas were far and away the Electrical appliance and Clothes repair sections of the café. On some occasions items were irreparable, here advice was given instead. Examples of situations where advice was given instead of repair were when the repair job was too complex for the time permitted or if a component that was needed for a repair was not available. Eight items fell into this category. Six items were not repairable. A conservative estimate of the total amount saved for visitors in not having to pay out to replace the successfully repaired goods was $4820.
The most pleasing thing about the whole event though was not the repairing of things but the fantastic positive atmosphere, the fact sharing and reciprocity, giving and receiving were entered into so warmly and enthusiastically. People were sharing and learning new skills. Even some of the repairers commented on learning new tips and tricks. The event ran from 10am to 1pm on a Saturday. In addition to the 25 people who were directly involved, around 90 people came through the doors either to have something fixed or just to satisfy their curiosity and have a look around.
Below is an image of the team behind the event at Bayswater School. There are several remarkable things about this image. A large proportion of this group had not met before yet were brought together through this collective endeavour. Also notable is the fact that only a handful were there in any kind of professional capacity; Andrew and Jane Walters from GAPO, Stephen McLuckie from ANCAD, Jerome from Resource Rescue through Envision and Zane Bray from Auckland Transport. It was felt that in order to provide peace of mind with regards to the repair of electrical items a registered appliance serviceperson’s expertise needed to be secured for the event. This serviceperson could then sign off on the work of the volunteer electrical experts involved. This was done through Envision managed Resource Rescue. The other person at the Repair Café in a professional capacity, Zane Bray, Walking and Cycling Champion at Auckland Transport coordinated the work of the bike maintenance repair area. The other 20 or so were there because they felt strongly about the idea and wanted to be part of it.
Of the event School Principal, Lindsay commented, “It was great to see so many whānau at the Repair Café. There was a real buzz when I popped in to see how it was all going. It was a real pleasure to see the school’s facilities being used for something which fits so well with culture of the school: Community coming together to help each other”.
There were numerous supportive comments in the feedback forms from repairers and visitors alike:
- “The best thing was seeing the connectedness of local people; using skills that used to be shared among communities in the past when we were less selfish & individualistic”.
- “Some people admitted to being “on bones of their bottom” and not being able to afford to replace things so repairing was best option for them! “
- “I learned how to fix the vacuum cleaner and the heater myself. Congratulations on this endeavour. I thought it was terrific and hope I will be there for a lot more of the same. I now have 2 items I can fix rather than buying new ones”.
- “So much fun. Loved seeing many faces that I knew, loved getting things patched or sewn up like new. I’m in for the next one please! “
- “Fantastic Idea. Great to see the community coming together like this and for such a good purpose”.
As has been illustrated by the volume of organizations seeking advice and keen to stage their own local events there is a large amount of interest in having further Repair Cafes both locally and across Auckland. This could just be the beginning of a movement that’s time has come.