I grew up in an era where we were a nation of inventors, do-ers and makers – and the DIY skills that I learnt from my father are still serving me well today. But it seems that this trend for skills being shared and passed down may itself need a little TLC. Statistics show that the DIY sector shrank by over a fifth from 2008 to 2013. Now that’s a lot! – so what’s been going on?
– A reduction in home ownership. The average age of the unassisted first-time buyer has risen to 33– We’re living in own properties for less time, so there’s there’s less of an incentive or ability to fix and maintain our homes which are often temporary, or belong to someone else.
– A rise in cheap disposable homeware and furniture and other cheap objects which aren’t worth repairing so get thrown away. They’re weak and often not designed to be fixed.
– The weather! Last year had unpredictable weather for Britain. Spring always brings a boost in home improvement – but difference between a sunny or a rainy March can mean a huge difference in sales at popular DIY stores.
– The battle for our attention: Sunday mornings used to be a time for DIY round the house – with just three or four TV channels showing dull entertainment or Songs of Praise. Those same Sunday mornings that my Dad would teach me DIY have now been grabbed by gaming, tablets, streaming tv and social networking. We’ve lost quiet time, a time when DIY might have been a natural fill in activity.
And yet retailers such as B&Q, are optimistic. The sector is expected to pick up, alongside the rest of the economy, next year. Plus, sitting in the new connected world of smart materials and technology, it’ll be a new DIY that’s better and smarter than ever.
That’s a good thing, of course. You might think, being a designer and an architect, that I’d rather you had someone come in and do-it-for-you (DFM- that’s a real acronym by the way!) Good design is not just about owning beautiful objects. It’s also owning functional pieces, and I would argue that an essential component of any good object is that it can be fixed, adapted, repaired and recycled at the end of its life. But we do need the skills, tools and the confidence to do this.
Many modern objects aren’t designed to be fixed – they’re designed to be replaced, upgraded, disposed of. But maintaining our homes and our possessions is what really allows us to own and love them – to form stronger, more valuable and richer connections to the environments that we live in.
From painting and decorating, practical skills and upcycling to 3D printing, design and maker faires, the trend for mending and fixing is showing a real revival as I pointed out in my predictions for trends in 2014. There are plenty of opportunities – here are a few groups leading the way:
-Regular readers will have heard me singing about Sugru in these pages recently. It’s a flexible silicone material that allows to repair and modify things. I’ve been combining it with super-strong magnets. Here’s a recent Sugru hack of mine a wall mounted but removable upcycled bottle vase:
– Maker Faires and Mini Maker Faires are taking off all over the world and are now in the UK, celebrating all things DIY and craft-related. From 3D printing to welding, amateur radios, remote controlled cars, robots, felt crafts and cooking – there are workshops and exhibitions to inspire you and your kids – there’s probably one in a city near you too. There’s a map of upcoming Maker Faires all over the world here.
– Repair Cafe allows you to bring in broken items, clothes with holes and wobbly furniture and learn how to fix and mend them. They have tools, materials, books and specialists on hand to help. The aim is that you can repair, alongside other people, possessions instead of throwing them away, and enjoy a cup of tea at the same time. There are Repair Cafes all over Europe and 9 in the UK – or if you want you can start your own.
The Good Life Centre, a London based and totally inspirational venue running workshops and DIY skills courses at a range of levels.
Online social networks are also helping us get together and fix things. Initiatives like Streetclubmake it easy to find people on your street or in your neighbourhood and build a sense of community. Being able to share tools helps a great deal – it’s better than buying something expensive for the sake of one job.
– Of course if you get stuck on almost any DIY job there’s always YouTube. But there are also other handy videos out there and sites like the brilliant Instructables which have craft contests and instructions for life hacks, DIY and upcycling.
The reality is that getting a few DIY skills under your belt isn’t just a good practical life skill its also enormously satisfying – allowing you to fix , create and adapt rather than add to landfill- so its good for you, good for you home and hey its even good for the environment.