Have you heard of Sustainable Didcot’s repair cafe? The group helps to reduce waste by repairing items that might otherwise be thrown away.
I visited recently to find out what happens.
How does the repair cafe work?
The repair cafe is usually held at Didcot Civic Hall. Anyone can take along a household item that requires fixing or repurposing. The only rules are no white goods and nothing too large to carry.
New arrivals sign in, register the item and weigh it. This is important as it helps Sustainable Didcot calculate how much waste they save. Once registered items are allocated a ticket and placed on the central table.
There is sometimes a short wait for a repairer to become available. This is the perfect opportunity to have a drink in the cafe! Once a fixer is ready you join them at their table to talk about the item and hopefully watch and learn how it’s repaired.
The volunteer repairers vary each month but there are usually people available to sharpen tools and fix electronic items, computers, jewellery, tools and clothing. I spoke to a few of the volunteers to find out more about their expertise and motivation.
Tristan fixes electronic items, including broken Christmas decorations. By day he’s an apprentice on the Harwell site but he enjoys putting the skills he learns on his job to use in a different environment.
Next door was Jacob. He’s a computer expert and once again enjoys using skills from his job at Rutherford lab to help others. Common problems include slow running PCs and software problems. He also sees broken screens for iPads and phones; however these need to be repaired by a specialist.
On the opposite side of the room Claire, Jill and Di were busy with sewing repairs. They classify themselves as enthusiastic amateurs who like to meet people and do good things for the environment. They usually repair bags, dolls, soft toys and clothes but one of their most interesting fixes was leather goods from World War II.
Beside them were Viv and Liz who repair jewellery but also help out with sewing if it gets too busy. They’re self taught members of Didcot Beading Group and can help fix jewellery that needs gluing or, for example, has missing links or broken chains.
Ed, the overall organiser of the repair cafe, does a bit of everything. On the day I visited this included fixing a clock. But he also helps out sharpening tools, gluing and overseeing the whole room.
Whilst there I chatted to a couple of customers to see what had brought them to the repair cafe.
Karen had bought in some clothes. This is the second repair cafe she’d bought items to, primarily because (in her words) she has no sewing skills whatsoever and wants to give some of her clothes a new lease of life. Repairing them means she doesn’t have to throw them away which is of course better for the environment. And no need to buy replacements.
Debbie and her husband bought a clock in. They love the clock but the hands kept on getting stuck and a temporary fix with Blu tack didn’t work. Ed set to work on the clock and I hope managed to fix it!
Aside from the above I saw customers with vacuum cleaners (one lady had two), a toaster, a radio, a lamp and various items of clothing. A treasure trove of repairs!
It’s not called a repair cafe for nothing. One corner of the room is set aside for cakes and drinks. Denise, from Sustainable Didcot, helps run the cafe, organising the donations and helping people with drinks.
Although all repairers and bakers give up their time for free donations towards refreshments and room hire are much appreciated.
Over 90 kg of broken items were repaired and saved from the bin on my visit. This included a lawn mower, stapler, necklace and hair dryer. Additionally 14 tools were sharpened and a large variety of clothing mended or altered.
Some items cannot be fixed. Success rates hover around the 50% mark. However in many more cases the volunteer repairers can provide advice e.g. as to what parts might need to be purchased. You can then bring it back to the next session to get them fitted.
Future repair cafes
Sustainable Didcot run the repair cafe every two months on the 3rd Saturday; the next cafe takes place on 20 July 2019. The next session includes bike repairs.
If you’d like to offer your skills at the repair cafe or find out more about Sustainable Didcot pop over to their website.