Really Useful-Community, Really Useful-Mending

How To Set Up A Repair Event in Your Community

November 18, 2015

I was recently lucky enough to be invited along to the Big Lunch Extras Roadshow in Swindon.
Not only did I get to go along and meet some amazing people, doing some amazing things, but I was also asked to do a presentation about Repair Events, to spread the Make Do and Mend love!
I thought it would make a great blog post, and might help people who would love to have a Repair event in their community, but aren’t really sure how to go about it.
So here goes!

What are Repair Events?

Repair events are community events, with volunteer repairers, that are free to attend, and people can bring their broken stuff along and get it fixed!
The aims of repair events are to:

  • promote repair and re-use, thereby saving resources
  • build community
  • promote and facilitate skill sharing

Types of Repair Event

  • Repair Cafes
  • Restart Parties
  • Independant events

Repair Cafes

Repair Cafes originated in the Netherlands, and have since spread to become a global phenomenon.
When I first stumbled across Repair Cafes, during our year of Buying Nothing New, in April 2013, there were 3 Repair Cafes in the UK.
Now, not even 18 months on, there are 18 listed in the UK!

At a Repair Cafe, you will usually find repairers for most things!
Small electrical items; computers and tech-y stuff; clothes and textiles; bric-a-brac and general items; bikes.
But really it depends on the skills of the volunteers who turn up on the day!

The Restart Project

The Restart Project is a “London based social enterprise that encourages and empowers people to use their electronics longer to reduce waste”. Restart parties work in a simliar way to Repair Cafes, but are just focussed on electronics.
Although it is a London based project, again these events are spreading, and there are now 6 outside of London (the black dots on the map. The orange ones are places/organisations that have made enquiries)

Independant Events

There are lots of events like this one at Remade in Edinburgh, that are run independantly, by organisations and individuals who are passionate about repair, and what repair events can bring to their communities.

What are some of the benefits of Repair events?

When I knew I was going to be giving a presentation about Repair events, I designed a questionnaire and sent it out into the world of social media, to get feedback from people and projects, who run Repair events.
Here are some quotes from people who were lovely enough to take the time to answer my questions (HUGE thankyous to them all!):

  • “Goodwill from both sides. Feeling that you can Beat The Man”
  • “Good local publicity at least get people thinking about the repair option”
  • “offers many significant social, economic and environmental benefits”
  • “People are fixing things rather than throwing away. Sociable event for repairers, putting them in touch with each other”
  • “Lots of goodwill around. More people visiting the centre when we run it”
  • “More men have engaged with our events. Normally it’s women so it’s been great to get a balance”
  • “Starts a conversation around re-use and repair, in a non confrontational way”

OK, so now you’re hooked, and inspired and want a Repair event in your community, right?

How to Set up a Repair Event

Who will run it?

  • You! And anyone else you can rope in!
    Most of the feedback I got in the questionnaire indicated that anywhere from 1 to 6-8 people were involved in the running of each Repair event.
    It is totally possible to do it on your own, but I would advise taking any help that is offerred. Not just in terms of all the ‘actual’ jobs of setting up the event, and finding repairers etc, but for support and encouragement along the way. Doing projects like this on your own can turn into a bit of a slog, so a small core team, will make for a more sustainable event.

Where and When?

  • A good venue is crucial.
    The Repair Cafe website recommends that a venue  should be “easily accessible and in the heart of a residential area”.
    This makes sense. You want people to be able to find your event easily, and to be able to get to it without a long journey.
  • Ideally, you want a free venue too, unless you have some funding, or a pot of money to throw at your Repair event!
  • For the Repair Cafe that I run, we are lucky enough to be able to use our local library, which works really well.
  • Other suitable venues could include:
    -Pubs or cafes with enough space. It’s a win win for the venue owners, as they get people into their establishment, and hopefully buying refreshments from them!
    -Village Halls and community centres
    -School halls
    -Pop-ups in empty shops
  • Size is important!
    The space needs to be big enough to fit in 4 or 5 ‘stations’ which might need to be 2 tables each.
    And if you are having bike servicing/repairs, then this often works better if there is access to an outdoor space too.
  • Somewhere that has the capabillity of, and equipment for, providing refreshments. A kettle (or an urn is even better!), cups and saucers etc.
  • Frequency varies hugely depending on where your event is, the size of the population you are serving, and how long the event has been running.
    Some of the bigger Repair Cafes, like Bristol and Brighton, run monthly, on the same day of each month. Whilst others run every other month, or 3-4 times a year.
    As long as people know when to expect you, it works!
  • Most Repair Cafes seem to be on a Saturday morning-this usually means that repair volunteers are more likely to be available, and tends to be a good time for people to pop in before getting on with the rest of their weekend.
    Having said that, many of the Restart parties are on weekend afternoons (Saturday and Sunday) as well as some evenings.
    Just have a think about when local repairers might be able to attend, and what usually works best in your town/community.

How to find volunteer repairers

  • Ask family or friends if anyone has any hitherto hidden skills they would be happy to share!
  • E-mail/ring/call in on local businesses. I have been able to recruit several local small businesses this way. For a small business, it is very effective, free advertising, and they will often get jobs off the back of being at the Repair event.
  • Job centre/back to work schemes may have suitable people on their books, with relevant skills, who are happy to volunteer in exchange for some work experience, and a reference
  • Local technical colleges-ask if students on vocational courses would be interested in coming along to help out

Above all, don’t be afraid to ask.
I am rubbish at asking other people to do things, but have found that most people love the concept, and are only too happy to help out.
Having said that, try to make sure that you don’t ask too much of the same people. Having a ‘bank’ of volunteers you can call on can really help, so that the same people aren’t feeling obligated to turn up to every event.

And don’t forget to thank them effusively, and make sure they have tea/coffee and cake on tap during the event!

Publicity and Promotion

  • Social media is your friend!
    Set up a facebook page for your event if you plan to hold it regularly, or at least make a ‘Facebook event’ so that you can invite people to attend.
    Send the event out to local Facebook pages like your local tourist information group, or if your town has community pages, then post the event to these pages, and ask people to share!
  • Design some flyers and posters.
    Give some to each of your repairers, especially if they have a bricks and mortar shop.
    And ask local shops if they would be willing to display a poster for you.
  • Local press
    If you use the Repair Cafe resource kit (see below) there is a template press release in there for you to send out to your local papers, and the Restart Project has something simliar too.
    In my experience, local radio stations are nearly always really supportive, and will give your event a mention, if not ask you in for an interview!

How does it actually work?

You will need a sign in desk, and a form (templates are available from Repair Cafe, and Restart Project) where people give their details (don’t forget to collect e-mail addresses for a mailing list) and state what they have bought with them, and what is wrong with it.
At the sign in stage, you also need to ask people to sign a ‘house rules’/disclaimer. Basically this states that all the repairers are volunteers, they will do their best to diagnose/fix any problems, but a repair is not guaranteed, and sometimes things might be made worse! If you don’t hava an electrician who can PAT test, then you need to make people aware that their electrical devices have not been tested for safety. Essentially, it’s all at their own risk!
There are templates for these available from both The Repair Cafe, and the Restart Project.
You can then ‘assign’ them to the relevant repairer. If there is a queue, or a wait, point them in the direction of the refreshments table, and make sure there are chairs for people to sit and wait on.

Have a ‘station’ for each type of repair, eg electronics, textiles etc, all set up with the relevant equipment. Make sure you ask your volunteers if they don’t mind bringing their tools/sewing machines etc with them.

The person bringing the item in is expected to source and pay for any parts that are needed to effect a repair. This might mean a dash into town by them to the hardware store, or that they come back to the next event with everything that is required.
The repair is intended to be ‘collaborative’, in that the repairer shows the owner of the item, how to fix it, thereby sharing skills, and meaning that they might be willing to attempt a repair themselves next time.
In my experience, this is the hardest bit to do!
Many people just want their thing fixed, and have no interest in how it’s done, or doing it themselves! But all we can do is try!

Once a repair has been made (or not), record the outcome on your sign in sheet, so you can keep a record of how many things have been fixed. And it’s also helpful to ask people to fill in a brief feedback form, so you know from the user’s perspective what is working, and what isn’t.

What happens to things that can’t be fixed?

Try your utmost to ensure that you are not lumbered with any unfixed items!
Gently point people in the direction of the local recycling facillity, or make suggestions for the recycling of e-waste and things like mobile phones.
Ideally the event is about things avoiding landfill, so if they can be recycled, do try and encourage it!

Insurance and Health and Safety

  • Your venue should have Public Liability insurance, so check with them that you are covered by this
  • If your repairers are small businesses, they should be covered by their business insurance-again, check with them
  • Ensure everyone reads and signs the disclaimer before their repair is attempted-that way no one can complain that they weren’t warned if repairs aren’t possible/don’t go to plan!
  • The Restart project has template risk assesments if you need to do one, which is super helpful
  • Be careful with trailing wires etc, and be aware of trip hazards!

How to pay for it

  • If you can get a free venue, then the costs for each event do not have to be great.
    Certainly for Repair Cafes, the ‘Cafe’ element implies some kind of refreshment will be available.
    If your venue is a pub or cafe, then happy days, this is all taken care of.
    If not, then you’ll need tea, coffee, milk, squash, and some kind of cake/biscuit yumminess.
  • Whilst asking people to pay an entry fee is actively discouraged, you are positively encouraged to have a very visible donations pot, both next to your refreshments table, and at your sign in desk. This should hopfeully help to cover the costs of the drinks etc, and may even leave you enough leftover for printing out some flyers/ads in the local paper etc.
  • Consider asking local businesses for sponsorship or support-they may be happy to pay for you to have a banner made, if their name can be on there somewhere etc.
  • There may be small pots of funding available locally-things like the token schemes in supermarkets are worth applying for

Top Tips for Repair Event Organisers

These are some of the tips left on the questionnaire:

  • Start small with a core group of practical handymen/women
  • Publicity is the key to success, as is treating your volunteers well, keeping them fully informed
  • Have a small but reliable group of repairers. Keep the repairers motivated with thank yous, complimentary refreshments, and celebratory events
  • Set a date to galvanise people. The rest will happen. Work through existing organisations, and friendly venues
  • Investing time in engaging community groups is worthwhile. Also holding events in public space helps raise awareness thanks to passing footfall
  • Just do it! If you’re nervous about it, get someone who already runs one to come and help the first time

Additional Resources

Repair Cafe website

Lots of resources and inspiration.
Search by location to find a Repair Cafe near you.
The Repair Cafe have a digital starter kit that you can download, for a suggested donation of €45 (about £32). I have downloaded this, and would recommend it if you are serious about starting your own Repair Cafe. Not only does it contain loads of really useful information, as well as template posters, forms and press releases, it enables you to use the Repair Cafe logo, and be added to their global list of events. AND you are helping them in their mission too!

The Restart Project website

Again, lots of resources and inspiration, as well as the facility to search for a Restart party near you.
You can also download The Restart Party Kit for free, which has loads of fabulous templates and resources for you to use.

Guardian Article on Starting a Repair Cafe

I hope that has inspired you to have a go?!
If you want anymore information, or just a chat about my experiences, then please do get in touch here, or leave a comment below.

Enormous thanks to everyone who completed one of my online questionnaires-it was so helpful! 

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1 Comment

  • Reply International Repair Cafe Week August 28, 2016 at 4:42 pm

    […] wondering where to start, I wrote a piece last year on My Make Do and Mend Life about how to set up a repair event that has lots of useful (I hope!) […]

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