Neil Morrin visits Liverpool’s Repair Café which takes place at Does Liverpool, the community hack space and co-working venue, on a monthly basis.
We are all more aware of the resources that are wasted for the want of a simple fix, why bother to repair when you can buy a new toaster for under a tenner. Well there is a café in Liverpool that is fighting back against this aspect of throwaway culture, and the waste of resources and carbon that go into the production of new items.
I was always someone who was willing to have a go, building a Racing Bike when I was a teenager, repairing white goods and building computers. Growing up I was the one, making tea for the repair man and observing what they were doing. These days if you don’t have a degree in computer engineering then it’s probably not worth opening your car bonnet, but 20 short years ago it was a common sight, the car up on ramps with the owner straining beneath. A few years ago Phone Bloks had come up with the idea of making parts on your mobile phone interchangeable, so you wouldn’t need to upgrade, you would just buy a better camera for it, larger battery or better processing. The idea never really took off as manufacturers’ economic model is producing whole goods designed to break down. But for the sake of community and the planet, the trend needs to be reversed.
Repair Cafés were common in Europe, and the idea had been whispered about in Liverpool for a number of years. It was Mike Gorman, a retired Manager at BT and now a DoES Liverpool community organiser who finally recycled the bullet, and then bit it. I spoke to Mike and Jackie Pease, another community organiser at DoES, about the project. But first of all, what is Does.
DoES Liverpool has been operating for a number of years, and is a thriving community interest group. During the 9-5 of the working week, the co-working space is full of small businesses, freelancers and contractors grafting on their own projects, then in the evening the space is transformed into a creative cauldron. A cauldron made from recycled bike parts. There are numerous tech meet-ups and crafting groups doing anything from printing mugs, 3D printing robotic hands to creating artwork so full of LED lights that would shame Las Vegas. It’s a great organisation so look them up and get involved. https://doesliverpool.com
if you give access to the tools, they will come
I spoke to Jackie first, who normally takes care of the welcome desk, and she explained how it all works. They would normally get about 30 people bringing in repair items, from laptops to lampstands, radiograms to shoes. Each item is taken to the huge main table, scattered with tools and measuring devices, as well as about 15 people busily working on an item or talking through the issues with the owner. It’s not all about the repair people that turn up every month doing the work, the ethos behind repair café means that the owner is given the skills and confidence to have a go themselves, and more importantly access to the tools to make the repairs with Multi-Meters, 3D printers, laser cutters, specialist screwdrivers plus bolts of all sizes.
Jackie informed me that they repair an amazing variety of items with visible repairs on clothes being all the rage. Indeed, further down the table a pair of Converse are being repaired. She introduces me to the Industrial sewing machine they have acquired hoping that someone will eventually have the confidence to use.
While there I watched as Martin, a DoES community member, helped a woman who had brought in a Clothes Maiden; the leg on it had broken off and rather than throw it away she had brought it in to the cafe. Martin cut a length of pipe, taking off the burs from the ends and fixing it over the half leg. The final part was testing the fix… putting so much weight on it I worried it would break the other legs.
people just don’t know how to sow a button on….
During a break from repairing a computer Mike tells me how he started out helping at the repair cafés in Warrington and Booths Town.
“There is a gap, where people just don’t have the skills anymore, people don’t know how to sow a button on. These are the skills that used to be taught in schools Home Economics lessons…… It’s the role of the repair café to give those skills back to the community.”
Repairs not guaranteed
Mike goes on to tell us that the repairs cannot be guaranteed, if it breaks 5 minutes after, well that’s life. It’s about helping the process and the ethos of learning to repair, and offering the skills and guidance needed. They provide for the community that will in turn help them to run.
On this note, I had noticed a box on the Welcome desk. After each repair each person is asked to make a donation covering the resources and the café itself. It still needs to tool with a PAT tester a priority.
The work of Jackie, Mike, Martin and everyone else, is the local manifestation of a worldwide movement. And coming up on the 15th February is the Big Fix an opportunity for Repair Cafes around the globe to repair on the same day. It aims to be a global contribution to keeping items out of landfill.
The next Repair Café is on the Saturday 15th February
There is also a repair café in Warrington and in Booths Town situated between Liverpool and Manchester.
You can find more information on the worldwide movement that are Repair cafés here. https://repaircafe.org/