Photo Credits: Martin Waalboer/Repair Café Foundation.
Repair Cafe: A New Generation
How many times have you guiltily dumped a kettle, a hoover, a toaster, a lamp because you didn’t know how to fix it? For most people, dumping is the first thing they consider when an item doesn’t work anymore. It’s the consumer society we live in – it’s often easier to buy another than fix it.
We’ve just launched the innovative Repair Cafe on our platform of social innovations, and can’t wait to see Ireland getting stuck in! Here we meet with Repair Cafe founder Martine Postma, who tells us why she thinks it’s such a success.
The World’s First Repair Cafe
It was the guilt of continually dumping good products that led Dutch woman Martine Postma to go about gathering people who could fix things, and inviting people who needed things fixed. The result? The first Repair Cafe was organised in October 2009 in Amsterdam-West. Today, there are 1,200 Repair Cafés, in 30 countries, on 6 continents.
“It’s a shame that people throw out broken items without, in many cases, even trying to repair them. We create a lot of waste in our daily lives and use way too many resources, which is not sustainable. I wanted to change this by stimulating people to start repairing once more.”
To make the idea attractive, Martine figured that it had to be available nearby, it had to be a cheaper option than buying a new one, and it had to be fun. “I started thinking about a kind of event which would combine all these aspects, and gradually, the idea of Repair Café came about: a meeting place in the neighbourhood where handy volunteers would help less handy neighbours fix their broken items. It would be both an event with an environmental goal, and a social thing: a place to meet people, have a chat, and a cup of coffee.”
A Sustainable Alternative
Martine believes that it’s the very practical nature of Repair Cafe – the fact that it’s giving people an alternative to dumping otherwise perfectly good products – makes it such a hit.
“You own a product, it breaks and you don’t know what to do, because you have no repair skills, no tools, and no time to focus on the subject. As a result, people
tend to throw broken items away too soon. They do so because they don’t know what else to do – and new products are available everywhere.” The feel-good factor also comes into it, says Martine – people feel better about the fact that they’re doing the right thing. “Repair Café gives them an alternative, which makes them feel good.”
While it’s the environmental aspect that attracts a lot of people, for others, it’s simply a social outlet – a place to make friends, to chat. “The idea attracts different kinds of people, which gives the idea more chances to spread quickly.”
Repair Café provides a starter kit, which takes all the hard work out of setting up your own. A Repair Café can work everywhere – most communities have people who are good at fixing, and who have broken items that need fixing. “In all communities, there are still some people who know how to make repairs, who do have the tools and the skills, and the time to help their neighbours,” adds Martine.
Turning the Tide
Turning the tide on the consumerist society we live in is going to be a challenge, but one that we can turn around, one person and one manufacturer at a time, believes Martine. “We would like every community around the world to have its own Repair Café. We would also like manufacturers to produce products that can more easily be repaired. That means, for instance, that it should be possible to open an item more easily without breaking the casing, that manufacturers should provide repair manuals with their products, that spare parts should be more widely available – and for a longer period.”
If you’d like to get started on setting up your own Repair Cafe in your community, take your first steps here.
About Repair Cafe
The Repair Cafes form a global movement dedicated to preserving repair knowledge in society and for better repairable products. Besides the Netherlands, there are also Repair Cafes in Belgium, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, the United States, India and Japan, and dozens of other countries around the world.