By Jenny Lindsay
It’s time to get that old broken “thing” out of the back of the cupboard or shed or wherever you’ve stashed it. We’ve got the best reason to take action, because 13-21 October 2018 is International Repair Café Week.
An experience becomes a movement
“On Thursday 18 October it was nine years ago that Martine Postma organised the very first Repair Café. On this day in 2009, dozens of residents brought their broken items to a theatre in Amsterdam. Now there are over 1,600 Repair Cafés in 33 countries, spread across six continents.” - International Repair Café Foundation
Martine might be surprised at how the Repair Café movement has taken off. Her commitment to sustainability at a local level inspired a model for bringing communities together to enjoy all the benefits of the Repair Café experience.
Learn while reclaiming lost items
The volunteer “fixers” who attend the Repair Café bring a wealth of knowledge to share with visitors. Some come from mechanical engineering or trades backgrounds, textiles expertise or trained jewellery-makers, for example. Yet others have accumulated years of practice in trouble-shooting and repairing their own things. They have a curious nature and love the sense of achievement when that niggling fault has been found and fixed.
While practising their skills, they love to show and teach others about the fixing process, from testing all the “likely suspects” of a fault, to pulling things completely apart.
One of our favourite fixes was from a visitor who’d scored a classic record turntable second-hand, but the needle was playing up. Taking the item apart revealed the previous owner, a DJ, had modified the needle arm with a bit of sticky tape. Problem solved - which was music to our visitor’s ears!
Share the experience with others in your community
We are thrilled to get enthusiastic feedback, like:
“Loved the chats with other attendees while I was in the queue!”
One of the powerful impacts of the Repair Café in the community is bringing people together. We’re proud to promote the International Repair Café Foundation goal:
“The Repair Café Foundation wants to make repair a part of the local community once again. It aims to maintain and spread repair expertise, and to promote social cohesion by bringing together neighbours from all walks of life and sets of motivations in the form of inspiring and accessible meetings.”
When visitors hang around for a while, observing other fixes after theirs is finished, we know we have something more than a repair service. It’s not just about reclaiming useful or much-loved items - it’s making connections with neighbours that keeps visitors coming back.
Find a Repair Café near you during this International Repair Café Week 13-21 October and check out what all the fixing fuss is about.
The next session of Melbourne Repair Café (Inner West) is Sunday 14 October 2018. Come along and join us to mark International Repair Cafe Week!
(We run the second Sunday of each month from 10am – 1pm at the Yarraville Community Centre, 59 Francis St Yarraville)
By Jenny Lindsay
I have to admit, I was a bit daunted, attending the Zero Waste Festival in Brunswick on 5 August. I’m so far from zero on my waste reduction journey, it’s not funny, and I only started making a dent in Plastic-Free July. But what a high-energy, positive crowd it was. Participants were generous with their ideas for how to consume more responsibly.
The event promised practical solutions to fight the war on waste, that could be taken into everyday lives, and did not disappoint. Even as I was just learning what the battlefields were, there were a lot of people around who were keen to share their tools for tackling this problem.
Changing the products we use/buy
Coffee lovers unite! If you’re concerned about millions of coffee pods going to landfill each day, then reusable coffee pods will be a welcome revelation. Along with keep cups, reusable water bottles and cloth nappies, it’s possible to keep doing what we’re doing in a more sustainable way. Changing the nature of the items we buy, from disposables to reusables, which are thoughtfully designed and high quality, will ensure they last longer, reduce waste, and in the long term save us money. Hooray!
Keeping things circulating in the community
Thanks to the convenience of cheap products in discount stores, we’re throwing things out at an amazing rate. If things break, who has the time or skill these days to repair them? Manufacturer servicing is expensive, may as well get a new one. So community Repair Cafés are valuable initiatives, sharing skills to keep the repair knowledge alive, and saving waste from landfill. Even more than saving money, volunteer fixers are reclaiming valuable treasures held onto for generations. The panel discussion by regional Repair Cafe Coordinators revealed great insight into the challenges and rewards of establishing a Repair Cafe in their communities. With the support of local community centres or neighbourhood houses providing a venue, setting up a repair centre can be relatively easy.
"In Conversation with the Growing Repair Movement" panel discussion at the Zero Waste Festival (Left to right: Marie Beale, Ringwood Repair Café; Elsie L’Huillier, Bendigo Repair Cafe; Sarah Race, Southern Peninsula Repair Cafe; David Clarey, Seymour Repair Café; Michelle Fisher, Melbourne Repair Café; Erin Rhoads, Zero Waste Victoria)
Tool libraries and toy libraries enable people to access things on a loan basis that they would otherwise need to buy and then are left under-utilised, cluttering the home. Clothes swaps are a wonderful way of re-using what we have. (The unclaimed clothes on the day went on to do more good at Fitted for Work, an organisation helping women with pre- and post-employment programs).
Moving on from this idea of keeping things circulating in the community instead of more purchasing, Sharing Shed Melbourne aims to share a library of things (tools, toys, recreation equipment, home appliances etc) plus sharing skills and knowledge through workshops. Watch this space for progress on planning for this initiative. Community support is welcomed - people and organisations who might be able to contribute skills, materials or other resources can reach out to the team here.
Upcycling, recycling, and more “closing the loop” ideas
“Everything old is new again” didn’t make sense to me until looking into upcycling activities. Rescuing items before they’re sent to landfill, and making something new, is an amazing skill that I appreciate all the more because I don’t have it. Our friends at Boomerang Bags do, taking fabric scraps and creating striking new reusable bags – brightening my day with happy colours, plus saving me from that awful dilemma of what to do at the grocers or supermarket checkout! Using food leftovers was also covered at the festival, although I wish I’d taken more time to learn these tips. I’m alarmed at how much I throw out sometimes, and I’d love some creative ideas for how to up-cycle bits and pieces into new meals at the end of the week’s groceries! Next time, . .
For those paying attention, there are countless ways to improve our consumption habits, whether changing our purchasing choices or using what we have differently. Adopting some changes one at a time can end up saving money and the planet. And that’s a Zero Waste target worth fighting for.
These were my highlights, and information about all the Zero Waste exhibitors can be found here: http://zerowastevictoria.org/zero-waste-festival/
If you are in a position to support Zero Waste Victoria's endeavours to tackle waste through education, workshops and advocacy, get in touch with the team at http://zerowastevictoria.org or join the discussion on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/ZeroWasteVictoria/.
By Jenny Lindsay
Game Changers Conversation, VU Footscray University Town, VU@MetroWest on 20 June 2018
Waste is everywhere. But so are the opportunities to prevent it.
That’s right, prevent it – not just deal with it. When we think about waste management, we often think of dirty, smelly tips, landfills or dumps. We ask how do we deal with the waste that’s currently created? Better recycling programs to divert waste from landfill? Partly, yes. There are definitely ways to improve our community’s recycling habits.
Imagine if we had less waste to deal with in the first place? Reducing the burden of waste management needs to be a priority for our community.
Better design for utility and long life
Some of the reasons for throwing things out included that they just didn’t work in the way they were expected. For example, who’s had a water bottle that leaks, or a cup that drips its contents down your front? It might look great, but removing barriers to use needs to be a focus for producers.
Ben Young, CEO & Founder of Frank Green, directed his energies to bringing good design to the drink bottle and keep cup scene. Building quality items that work well and are made to last is a sure-fire way to keep consumption to a minimum. Ben involved baristas in the design process and incorporated features for added customer assurance, like extra turns to ensure the seal was secure.
Buying something just once that you’ll actually use, and use a lot, beats wasting the millions of disposable and poorly constructed items in the world today.
Donavan Marney, Industry Support and Outreach Scientist at the Australian Synchrotron, noted that we ARE innovating, but research funding comes in waves. While Council are activating waste management programs, there needs to be longer term policy and leadership at higher levels to enable research and development to identify solutions.
The work being done now is around how to process waste, by identifying the properties of the materials. We already know disposal of micro plastics is a particular problem. The processing of waste material is decided at the time of disposal.
A better scenario is to decide earlier – does this item need to be produced/purchased/discarded?
Let’s walk this journey together
For our consumption and habits to change, let’s walk this journey together. It’s important to recognise that not everyone has the same values. For example, our lifestyles are often heavily reliant on cars, which are entirely synthetic. A war on waste does not mean war on all plastic.
In an environment where we decide how to manage our waste problem at the time of disposal, can we decide earlier? Do we need the latest model? Is it unrepairable? Can we find it elsewhere?
If you can imagine a tap left running, do you constantly mop up the floor, or turn off the tap?
Let’s see where we can reduce consumption, minimise waste, and eliminate the need for items at the source wherever we can.
By Jenny Lindsay
What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than supporting community-led sustainability efforts in my area. I joined the crew of the Melbourne Repair Café (Inner West) for a pop-up repair session at the Hobsons Bay City Council’s World Environment Day Community Festival in Williamstown last weekend.
Some folk came along prepared with their broken household items, while others were pleased to learn what a Repair Café does.
Brain-busting troubleshooting tested the skills of our fixers on an array of broken and tired appliances and tools. There was an eager queue awaiting their turn and all the visitors were good sports about taking their place in a busy line-up. We took on a surprising amount of fixes in the 2-hour session.
One terrific piece was a 1970’s era desktop fan, which had been no more than a table ornament for over 30 years, according to its owner. It turned out the switch mechanism was in need of some repair which was swiftly fixed. Then, although a little sluggish after decades unused, the fan came back to life. Hurrah! Another fix, another item saved from landfill, and a treasured family piece with a second life.
Photos by Michelle Fisher
Often, the items we see at the Repair Café are designed not to be opened. They’re either glued together or have proprietary screw heads for expensive manufacturer’s servicing only. So, having a kettle that came apart easily was a bonus. The screws were all a standard type and were easily located. All parts were accessible. It was fairly straightforward then to discover the pesky problem and clear out the pipe to the steam switch so that it could be brought back into use, saved from a trip to landfill and avoiding expensive replacement.
We were delighted to take up Hobson’s Bay City Council’s invitation to co-locate with the World Environment Day Community Festival. Visitors enjoyed the festival before or after stopping by our pop-up Repair Café. When you visit us at the Yarraville Community Centre, there’s also plenty to see. During a busy session, the small wait for a fixer to be available gives you time for a coffee or tea and to check out the (small, but growing) Really Really Free Market. You can watch the other repairs underway, then take a seat, because the fun of a Repair Café session is learning how to repair or pull your item apart and trouble-shoot for next time.
Many visitors were fascinated to see a Repair Café in operation, among many cries of “I’ll have to bring in all my broken things”. It’s clear so many of us hang on to items which might be saved, but we’re not ready to find a fix or bid farewell to it either way. A Repair Café run by skilled volunteers is a handy solution, then, and we’re anticipating a lot more visitors next session.
A job well done, said one of our fixers: “We made people happy and got paid in mandarins.”
If you’re keen to get your “fix”, check out the next Melbourne Repair Café session on our website: http://www.melbournerepaircafe.org/
and follow us at:
By Michelle Fisher
First check to see if there's a repair cafe or fixit initiative in your area already. You can check the map hosted by the International Repair Foundation for registered repair cafes around the world. We keep a map for Victoria where we try to keep track of existing, proposed and potential repair cafes in our State. You can also check with your local community centre or local government offices to see if they are aware of any fix-it or repair intiatives in your area.
If you're interested in starting a repair cafe, I recommend getting ahold of the starter kit from the International Repair Foundation and registering on their map (joining the network of 1200+ repair cafes across 30+ countries!). Then set about getting volunteer fixers, a venue to hold the first session, get a start date and event to launch, and then various avenues to promote it. Lessons learned include:
Okay - let's address one common what-about: What about insurance? After questions around how to get fixers along, this seems to be the next most common question asked when people are looking to set up a repair cafe. The following points are worth noting (mindful that this is not intended to constitute legal advice and you'll need to satisfy yourselves about what measures you adopt to address safety, risk and liability):
If you want to find out more about starting up a repair cafe in your community, check out:
[This text also appears in the FAQ section of this website and has been reproduced here to assist those with mobile devices who may not be able to view the FAQ drop down boxes.]
By Michelle Fisher
Melbourne’s inner west now has its own repair cafe, where people can bring along their broken items from home for volunteer fixers to fix, wherever possible, and where visitors get the chance to learn practical skills and have a go at fixing things themselves – all free of charge!
The “Melbourne Repair Cafe (Inner West)” launched this past Sunday (21 February) at the Living Future Festival in the Yarraville Gardens. Over a dozen volunteers were on hand to run workshops and talk to festival-goers about what they can expect at future repair sessions. Dean brought his guitar-fixing gear to the launch to repair bridges and broken strings – including a Moroccan banjo (sitir) he was presented with on the day and which he managed to fix! Howard, a mechanical fitter by trade, showed people how they can revitalise rusty tools. Sylvie, sitir owner and local artist, captivated both young and older visitors to talk about what goes into an essentials toolkit. Danny and Karen, from Reusers of Unloved Discarded Excess (RUDE), ran sessions on fixing garden hose connections, replacing three-point electrical cords, and doing basic clothing repairs and alterations. And Mick and John (the “bike whisperers”) were on hand to show cyclists how to fix and maintain their bikes.
The repair cafe concept started in the Netherlands in 2009 and, in 2010, the Repair Cafe Foundation (http://www.repaircafe.org) was set up to help other local groups wanting to start up their own repair cafe. The Melbourne Repair Cafe (Inner West) joins over 900 repair cafes around the world and is one of only four in Australia. The other three are at Albury-Wodonga, Marrickville and Mullumbimby in New South Wales.
The idea is to help put neighbours in touch with each other to discover and share practical skills close to home. Repairs can also save money and resources, and minimise what goes into landfill. Plus, as every kid who takes things apart can tell you, it’s just plain fun to be able to fix stuff!
The first in-cafe repair session will be held at Natasha’s cafe in Seddon on the first Sunday in March (the 6th) from 10am til noon. Rhubarb Wholefoods Cafe is located on the corner of Buckley and Victoria Streets.
Find out more about the Melbourne Repair Cafe, future repair sessions, and how to become a volunteer fixer by visiting http://www.melbournerepaircafe.org.
*This article also appeared in the print issue of The Westsider newspaper (March 2016, Issue #14).
Michelle Fisher is the founder and coordinator of the Melbourne Repair Cafe (Inner West). She is more comfortable wielding pens than tools and welcomes contributions from those who can wield one or the other or both! Please send submissions to the Melbourne Repair Cafe's email address..
Jenny Lindsay is a seeker of sustainable lifestyle solutions who regularly helps out on the Repair Café registration desk. Jenny is the founder of Connectjen virtual assistant which offers copywriting, marketing and admin support for businesses committed to challenging the status quo.