Tools for change: how a Repair Café has impacted a Roscommon community

A new Repair Café is part of a wider ecosystem of impactful community projects in the village of Cloontuskert in Roscommon. 

Joe Cribbin is well-known in his local community in Cloontuskert, Co. Roscommon, having been involved in various community projects for many years and volunteering with Ballyleague Men’s Shed, Ballyleague Tidy Towns and Cloontuskert Tidy Towns.

Recently he’s added another string to his bow, by leading a Repair Café project in the area, supported by funding from the Accenture Sustainability Challenge.

What is a Repair Café?

Repair Cafés are free meeting places where people come together to repair things, such as furniture, electrical appliances and bicycles. Repair Cafés help communities connect, allow valuable practical knowledge to be shared and reduce waste.

The Repair Café was initiated by Martine Postma, who organised the first Café in Amsterdam, in 2009, which proved to be a great success. Repair Café provides an amazing, detailed starter kit complete with fixing instructions for a wide range of items once you register as an official Repair Café. There are now over 2,200 Repair Cafés worldwide.

Getting started

Joe and other members of Ballyleague Men’s Shed had been toying with the idea of starting something like this for a while, and when they heard of the funding available through the Accenture Sustainability Challenge, it was the nudge they needed.

“With a sustainable development ethos at the core of our Men’s Shed work, we wanted to work at the heart of our community to assist locals with repairing and upcycling items, educating locals on DIY and providing a much-needed social outlet for the community.”

Meeting of members of group
The group’s first meeting

Giving a local dumping ground a new lease of life

The Repair Café is part of a wider ecosystem of impactful community projects in Cloontuskert. With support from ChangeX and the Accenture Sustainability Challenge, volunteers from across the local community have also started a Community Fridge and an Open Orchard project.

The first step in bringing these projects to life was to repurpose a local area that had become a dumping ground. Joe and other volunteers at Ballyleague Men’s Shed, with support from the local Tidy Towns group, got to work cleaning up the site. 

It was no easy task, and involved the removal of assorted items, such as prams, bikes and insulation, that had been dumped. This work created the An Taisce Green Flag-winning Cloontuskert Community Orchard.

Next, Joe and his team filled in the site with soil, assisted in the creation of the Cloontuskert Community Orchard, and upcycled an old 8 foot x 20 foot portacabin to serve as the home for their Repair Café.

“Not only was the interior of the cabin given a fresh paint job, we also repaired flooring, roofing and skirting, installed electrical power, wiring and gave it a general clean up, internally and externally,” Joe says.

The result? A wonderful new space for their community.

“We have transformed a former waste ground site, with no definite purpose, into a wonderful community amenity which has been a lifeline for keeping our members busy and looking forward in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

How the Repair Café works

A core team of about 13 Men’s Shed volunteers lead on the Repair Café project, but Joe says other people help out as needed. “I have people I can call on who want to help out and do good by the village,” he says.

“I get phone calls from people who want to help out, and we get them going,” he explains. “We have two tutors who are teaching the basics of welding and carpentry, with the wonderful assistance of Galway and Roscommon Education and Training Board Community Education.”

The Repair Café’s policy is a simple one: if someone gets in touch about an item that needs to be fixed, they bring it along to one of the sessions and then they take away the item, whether it is fixed or not. 

But it’s a place to work, not drink tea, Joe quips. “Anyone’s welcome. Come in, talk to us and do a bit of work. But we don’t have a kettle.”

Joe says that the Repair Café has unearthed some hidden local talents. “There’s one fella – I never saw him before apart from out walking his dog – and he joined us. Turns out he’s a genius with his hands and now is giving lessons on woodturning,” he says.

A continued commitment to community

Word spread locally about the Repair Café and a variety of items have already been successfully repaired, including outdoor furniture, an old chainsaw and a lamp destined for landfill.

“We have more items lined up to repair and we are loving every moment of this dream come true for our community. We look forward to growing our Repair Café and further kitting it out to expand our capabilities,” says Joe. 

“We are so excited to be bringing sustainable development to the fore in our community and we are anticipating working with other groups, including the Roscommon Women’s Network, in the near future to expand our outreach and Repair Café’s impact both locally and nationally.”

The project has helped build community connection too. “People want to do good, they want to help out, they get pride from it,” Joe says. “It’s a social thing too.”

Inspired by Joe’s story? Start a Repair Café or other impactful project today in your community!


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