17.03.2016

Can repair cafés recondition our throwaway culture?

LIFESTYLE | |

(Photo: Olivia Lazenby)

We spend a day at the Leeds Repair Café – a festival of fixing in the UK – to find out if there was anything they couldn’t mend. First thing they fixed? Our disposable mindset…

Ever accidentally broken something? Busted your music speakers playing Beyoncé too loud? Boiled the kettle with no water in it? Or sat on your favourite pair of glasses?

If you did, how likely would you be to try a repair job yourself? Most people would probably curse a little and sulk for a while before inevitably forking out and buying a replacement. But Leeds Repair Café is on a mission to fix our throw-away culture. All you need is a table of snacks, a vat of tea, a volunteer team of menders and a bunch of tool boxes.

I arrive at the café venue clutching a failed DIY job – a Moroccan lampshade with the socket and wiring from another lamp inexpertly taped inside. The atmosphere is one of disorganised enthusiasm – tools spill at random from tables and makeshift workbenches and people stand in groups or sit around tables holding items in varying states of disrepair. Men with screwdrivers stride purposefully through the melee while groups of ladies knitting and stitching appear serenely oblivious to the chaos unfolding around them.

 

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Fix the light fantastic: thermomorph takes care my lamp (Photo: Olivia Lazenby)

 

Within seconds of announcing to one table that I brought a broken lamp with me, there are three excitable volunteers jostling to take on the job. Mark, Joe and Danny fervently perform a thorough inspection of the damaged lamp before Mark announces mystically: “I feel the magnetic allure of thermomorph.” The tape is unceremoniously ripped off by Danny while Mark sets up a makeshift cardboard work table and begins to heat some plastic beads with an air heater.

“90 per cent of all broken stuff was successfully fixed. Including: a ukulele, an electric keyboard, various computers, lamps…”

Before I have time to ask what’s happening, my lamp is fixed. The plastic stuff (polymorph, apparently) cools and sets in moments, so all he had to do was stick the lamp to the bracket inside the lampshade and, hey presto – I have one working Moroccan lamp (with an LED bulb, of course). I’m both amazed and impressed, and after thanking him for his expertise, I take a look around the rest of the café.

Each specialism seems to have claimed a table as their own. A group sewing, stitching, knitting and crocheting – Stitch Up – have made a home at the back of the room; while a group of computer fixers – FixIT Leeds – have spread keyboards, monitors wires and microchips in a chaotic mess across a table near the entrance. Elsewhere, Yorkshire Repairs and Leeds Hackspace occupy the middle ground, where it seems the majority of other broken items are undergoing repairs.

 

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All in all, the first ever Leeds Repair Café had 15 fixers in attendance, along with over 45 fixees. Around 90 per cent of all broken stuff was successfully fixed. Including: a ukulele, an electric keyboard, various computers, lamps, a bike pump, a hairdryer, some clothes and shoes, a much-loved radio and, amazingly, a vintage record player.

Here are a couple of treasures given a second life:


Fixed up, looks sharp #1 – Judy’s dancer

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What is it? Vintage porcelain flamenco dancer lamp

“It was my Grandad’s and he got it from Spain in the 60s. It’s a piece of tat really but I love it. It broke when we were trying to fix a radiator. We moved the draws it was stood on out of the way and it fell. I’ve tried fixing it myself with super glue, but it didn’t work out so well. I’ve glued the pieces back together but now there’s one piece that won’t fit, and the part that holds the bulb is broken.”

 


Fixed up, looks sharp #2 – Sukbia’s uke

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What is it? Ukelele

“I got it from a car boot sale. I don ‘t play but I’m going to learn when it’s fixed. It may take a few days for the strings to loosen up a bit and it’s not perfectly in tune yet. But hopefully I’ll be able to take the masking tape off once the glue sets properly.”

 


 

I spoke to the founders Ed and Amanda at the end of the day. And caught up with Joe from Leeds Hackspace, too:

 

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Repair Cafe co-founder Ed (centre) and ukulele fixer

 

Where did you get the idea for Leeds Repair Café?

Ed: Repair cafes have been running for a few years around the world. They started in Holland and they’ve been spreading out as an idea. I heard about it and thought it would be a good idea to bring to Leeds. I mentioned it on Facebook and started talking to Amanda and we decided we should do it. We were lucky to get hold of this space which was available and free. We put it out on Facebook and it pretty much promoted itself.

Amanda: Ed and I started chatting over a year ago. I had heard about them in different towns and cities but had never been along to one. I thought, There are lots of people with skills and it would be nice to bring them all together. It’s an educational thing, too, even if people can’t fix things, they can learn how to do something in future. It’s nice to make it a social thing, too.

 

How did you find people willing to fix things?

Ed: There are a few cooperative groups like Leeds Hackspace and Fix IT who were happy to volunteer. And then there’s a certain kind of people who just love to fix things who came along, too.

 

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Amanda: FixIT Leeds are a cooperative based in Armley. They have a really good scheme where they fix £20 computers which can be used to access the internet to make it accessible for anyone to have a computer. Leeds Hackspace are based above the Peddler’s Arms which is a bike workshop I volunteer at. They do general gadgetry things and have open evenings on Tuesdays. Individuals have come along, too; for a lot of people, it’s just something they do in their spare time.

 

The event seems to have been quite a success…

Amanda: Yes, it’s quite a nice level of busyness. Most people have had their things successfully fixed – we had to turn away a digital camera but most things have been fixable.

 

Do you think you’ll make it a regular thing?

Ed: The interest to do another one is there. I think we will do it again, maybe make it a monthly thing. There’s a guy from the city library here who works for the council who has offered his space to continue the café. So let’s see.

Amanda: If it became a regular thing maybe we could have a fixed location with tools. As long as people are up for helping we can continue to hold them. It’s been a lot of work to organise so it would be good to get a few more people involved in that respect.

 

How did you get hold of the tools needed today?

Ed: Quite a few people brought their own tools, I also have a car full of stuff. But, for the most part, people who have come to fix things have brought their own tools.

 

Joe from Leeds Hackspace (Photo: Olivia Lazenby)

Pulling strings: Joe from Leeds Hackspace (Photo: Olivia Lazenby)

 

Tell us about Leeds Hackspace. How did it start?

Joe: Hackspace has been going for around six years. I started going there about four years ago. I go along about twice a week. I don’t do much fixing there – it’s a community workshop where we encourage people to make whatever they want, so fixing is kind of an incidental thing. It’s more about making things from scratch or repurposing stuff – hacking things, you might say.

 

How many members are there? What are they doing?

Joe: We have about 20 regulars and 40 members. At the moment someone is making a device for measuring the temperature of his home brew to keep it a regular temperature, and another person is making a device to point to the international space station. One person is making a dye extraction machine to extract dye from natural woods and plants. Someone else is making a light based art display for east street arts hostel project.

 

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