Pics: Patrick Boyd Photography
The Sunday morning Kate Jerrold’s dishwasher broke, she scoured the internet first before scrubbing dirty pans. After much Googling, she worked out that the problem was the machine’s timing mechanism and it would be cheap to fix. “Basically, the dishwasher was fine but the tiny printed circuit board had gone. A replacement would probably cost about 50p but I needed someone handy to fix it,” says the 44-year-old former civil servant who runs an architectural decor business in Bristol with husband Paul (43).
Knowing she’d probably struggle to get someone to do such a small job, her attention was drawn to a website she’d stumbled across for the Repair Café in Holland. Springing up all over the world, the popular cafés are free meeting places where members of the local community get together to swap practical skills and repair clothes, furniture, electrical appliances and household items to stop them being thrown away, thus saving the environment.
“Why isn’t there one in Bristol?” she found herself asking. So she decided to set up her own repair café in her neighbourhood. A month later, in December 2013, she found herself hosting the first meeting in a local church in Bristol. After advertising the event on Facebook, she was surprised when ten people turned up. “I was amazed. I’d originally thought it was a bit of a long shot and a big ask of people to give up three hours a month to use their own practical skills to fix things for people they didn’t know for no gain!” she admits.
Surprisingly, nobody seemed to mind. Word spread and she’s been hosting them every first Saturday of the month ever since. “We’ve got a stable core of around 15 experts from an electrician to a seamstress to people who can fix mobile phones, computers and bikes. People can just turn up and try their best to repair whatever is brought in.”
The spin-off benefit is that it has created a real feeling of community that crosses all age groups. “The bonds that grow from somebody helping them for no reason other than being nice is a really good feeling. It’s just neighbours helping neighbours,” adds Kate, who now knows more people to say hello to in her community than ever before.
Hilary Finch (68) is a semi-retired clothes designer and maker who spotted details about the repair café online and told her daughter, Tessa Beeching (47) about it. The pair are now regulars at the monthly sessions. Hilary takes her sewing machine and mends garments for others while Tessa fixes everything from bicycles to toasters. Hilary says: “I’ve never been a big earner so have always had to be thrifty. I made clothes for my own three children and I made them for my six grandchildren, but they don’t seem to want them any more.
“At the repair cafe I darn everything from teddy bears and backpacks to putting new zips in and fixing hems. I don’t mind doing it for free because people I’ve met there have come to me at other times to do paid work for them. I’ve also benefited from the skills of people at the repair café. Recently, someone had a look at my computer for me.
“I’m also concerned about saving the environment for my grandchildren’s future. I don’t see why people should throw things away just because they’re broken and need repairing. I’m semi-retired and live on my own, so it’s a nice way to get out and meet people as well as being a fun thing for Tessa and me to do.”
‘It has created a community feeling across age groups’
Tessa adds: “Growing up we never had much money so I always looked after and repaired my own toys and bicycles. I inherited my dad’s mechanical mind and am happy to help. It’s nice to do our bit for the environment.”
Last month the Bristol Repair Café won an award from worldwide ecological organisation, Earth Champions, for its valuable contribution to the environment. “I’m just trying to make our planet a little bit nicer," says Kate. "Aside from the environmental issues, I work hard and begrudge replacing things that should last longer. Other people obviously feel the same."
Although Kate grew up in a thrifty household, she admits that as soon as she set up her own home, she was seduced by nice, new shiny plastic ‘things.’ “My parents ran an architectural salvage business and when I was young, everything was second-hand. Shabby chic wasn’t trendy then – it was just old!” But after joining the family reclamation business ten years ago, she changed her views. “I realised that people were throwing beautiful old stuff away and replacing it with rubbish. New things weren’t anywhere near as well-made as old stuff.”
Kate soon became passionate about reclamation and two years ago, she and husband Paul launched their decor business. But despite all her recycling success, she still hasn’t managed to get her dishwasher fixed because the replacement part she needs is unavailable!
Kate now hopes to campaign for manufacturers to sell cheap replacement parts instead of expecting people to buy new… and meanwhile, she and Paul wash up by hand every evening. “I wash, he dries... it’s actually quite relaxing. Some of the old ways really aren’t so bad!” she laughs.
- To find out more about the Bristol Repair Café, call 0117 958 5322 or visit repaircafe.org
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