The Rise of Repair
You don’t have to look far to see the upward trend for second-hand, refurbished, and recycled goods. Selfridges recently announced a new ‘Repairs Concierge’ with home collection service; whilst Patagonia, well known for their infamous ‘Don’t buy this jacket’ encourage customers to Reduce, Repair, Reuse, Recycle and Reimagine how they consume. Finisterre has a dedicated repair workshop customers can send their worn purchases to where they will be mended by hand.
But It’s not just bigger brands that can afford to offer these services, younger fashion brands are proving their worth by putting de-growth at the heart of their business model. L’Estrange for example, offers life care for their clothing range that includes repair to keep them in use longer and re-use of the materials at the end of their life. Even King Charles III is getting involved and is due to appear in the BBC’s popular restoration programme “The Repair Shop” this month.
With more people demanding longer lasting products the Right to Repair community are campaigning in the EU for legislation to extend the number of electronic devices that can be repaired. Whilst manufacturers such as Apple now offer refurbished handsets and access to some of the spare parts and information needed to self-repair some of their phones. There is still a long way to go to make repairing all the other electronic devices we use a viable option. This often comes down to the cost of repairing, availability of spare parts, and the repairability of the device (how it was designed and manufactured).
The Repairability Index that was introduced in France in 2021 (for smartphones, laptops, televisions, lawnmowers and porthole washing machines) rates products out of 10, so that consumers will know how repairable they are before making their purchase. Later this year the index will be extended to include top washing machines, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, and high-pressure cleaners.
At a local level, community repair events like Repair Cafés and Restart Parties (that focus on electrical devices) are helping visitors learn how to repair their possessions at social events. Around the world at these events, tools are provided and volunteers give guidance on how to conduct the repair.
Brighton Repair Café
When we started the Brighton Repair Café, we contacted a local café who agreed to host our first event for free, providing hot drinks to attract morning visitors in need of a caffeine hit. At the first session, we focused on what we could fix between us, bringing our sewing kits and some jewellery repair tools. It was a fun gathering so we decided to do it again and have continued (nearly) every month since then.
Photographing these early sessions for social media posts helped publicise the events and encourage more people to get involved. Gradually we attracted more volunteers with an amazing range of repair skills so we could help visitors fix small electrical goods, bicycles, furniture, and other household items.
We moved to a bigger venue (a church with a café in it) and Sam Jarman (a fellow lecturer at UCA), came on board to co-organise BRC. We began encouraging our students to get involved with the events and began holding them in different venues across Brighton (from maker spaces to a community pub). Then, in 2018, alongside other community repair and ally groups as well as cross-party politicians, we signed the Manchester Declaration to demand the Right to Repair.
At the time of our first event there were only two other repair cafes in the UK. There are now over 300 community repair group across the UK and over 2480 Repair Cafés across the world. You only have to look at the Fixfest 2022 event held in Brussels last week to understand how the momentum is growing.
The Benefits of Repair
So, why has this community repair movement grown so rapidly? I think it comes down to their being multi-faceted appeal for everyone involved. At community repair events we all:
- learn and share practical skills
- feel empowered by repairing our own things or helping others to repair theirs
- meet new people by participating in an activity together
- reduce waste (saving things from going to landfill)
- reduce resource use (removing the need for replacing products or recycle materials)
- build confidence to repair more things
- examine our own consumption habits
- question the planned and perceived obsolescence of products
- do something tangible to address climate change
When I was studying Sustainable Design, I realised the significance of the act of repairing together and wanted to explore it further. I decided to research how community repair could become normalised and I applied for funding from DEFRA and the CIWM for my thesis. This took me on a journey in which I met waste experts creating alternative systems for resource redistribution and re-valuing waste, as well as other community repair groups. I presented my research at Imperial College London. My thesis was well received and later published by Defra, even though it took some by surprise as it offered a more qualitative, behavioural approach to the discussions that were taking place about the Circular Economy at the time.
Reflecting on Repair Day
Since completing my masters BRC events have continued to be a part of the rhythm of my life. We have gained and lost members of our team, but have always had an amazing, dedicated core group of people willing and able to come together for a few hours each month to fix together. The only break in this being during the COVID 19 pandemic when we went online; holding a few virtual repair cafes to keep the team together. During this time Sam and I became part of a steering group to establish the UK based Community Repair Network – our aim? To bring repair to every community in the UK.
Sam and I continue to explore how to widen participation in community repair in Brighton & Hove and beyond, by giving talks to local authorities and other community groups, helping new repair cafes to get established and taking part in symposiums and conferences on repair.
We have just returned from an incredible weekend at Fixfest a gathering of community repairers, organisations, policymakers, and educators from around the world. The opening keynote speech was given by Mathew Alapayo, from CC4D a refugee from South Sudan who, inspired by his childhood memories of his father fixing things, started a Repair Café in the refugee camp in Uganda that he now lives in (with just a screwdriver, some scissors, and a toothbrush).This humbling and awe-inspiring start to the weekend led to explorative discussions and workshops on how to make repair more accessible by embedding it within education, policy, and every neighbourhood.
Our time at Fixfest also set the tone for the theme of this year’s Repair Day #RepairEverywhere and made me realise that although the repair movement has come a long way over the past decade, in many ways it feels like this was just the beginning….