Hungerford Repair Café opened its doors at the Croft Hall again last Saturday 16 September to help people fix their broken things in a sociable and friendly setting. We helped to fix, or offered advice on fixing about 40 items during the 2.5 hours we were open. We estimate this represents about 80kg of material that could have potentially ended up in landfill.
People often ask us “I have (something) that is broken. Can you help me fix it?” In general, we will try to help with electrical and electronic goods, clothing, furniture, crockery, housewares, bicycles, toys etc. Anything that’s broken (and which you can manage to carry on your own to the Repair Café) is welcome and has a good chance of getting repaired. If you wish to know if we can help you fix something, please get in touch using the contact details on our web page below. But often we need to see the item before we know ourselves. For example, one lady brought in a beautiful sun parasol with a broken pole. Fortunately our volunteer was able to reconnect the parts of the pole. Wouldn’t it be a shame if that couldn’t be fixed?
Of course, some things are better taken to a professional repair service, and if we feel that is that case we will try to find someone who can help. But in these times, many things are made without providing a way to have them fixed and repair centres are few and far between. This is where we believe we can make a difference by helping people do what we do – fix it ourselves.
Our next Repair Café morning is on Saturday 18 November at the Croft Hall in Hungerford from 10am to 12:30pm. Drop in for a cuppa and cake and a friendly chat about repairing your stuff.
If you want to volunteer, or to know more about what we do, visit us at: repaircafe.org/en/cafe/hungerford-repair-cafe where you will find dates and contact details.
Hungerford has played host to another successful Repair Café and on Saturday 28 January the Croft Hall was teeming from 10am until closing time at 12.30pm. The town’s first Repair Café was held in July 2021, and apart for a few breaks during the pandemic, the event has been running since then, usually on the third Saturday of every other month.
“We are not specialist repairers,” one volunteer said, “but just ordinary folk who will have a go at mending something that is broken.” This is the attitude that sits at the heart of the whole repair-café ethos. Fixing stuff is, however, not as easy to do as it once was.
The problem, as many of us will testify, is that so much of what we buy is no longer designed to be mended. I, for example, turned up on Saturday with a four wonky items including a Grundig coffee-maker that had stopped working about six months after I bought it. One of the repairers, Graeme, identified that getting properly inside required accessing a screw so deeply recessed in the casing that it was almost impossible to reach; while the head, or what we could see of it, required something far more specific than anything in Graeme’s toolbox. What we needed had possibly been designed by Grundig for no other purpose other than to tighten this one screw on this one device, so effectively locking out anyone who wasn’t correctly kitted-up.
At this point, a certain amount of despondency kicked in. If the whole thing had been designed, like a Bond villain’s lair, to deter visitors then it was to be expected that even more severe obstacles would lie in wait. There was also the matter of the piece of plastic moulding that had broken off (how?) and which was lying loose inside the first casing we removed. Was this crucial to everything? It was impossible to tell. Eventually, we agreed to call it a day. The system had, on this occasion, defeated us. But we’d tried.
I’m happy to report, however, that many others had happier experiences. Thanks to the resourcefulness and perseverance of the volunteers, a total of 44 items were mended in Hungerford and plans were made to fix another ten later. These ranged from a stuck CD player to a teddy bear that no longer played a tune when squeezed. Overall about 110kg of potential landfill waste was saved. The axe and log-splitter I also brought along are now so sharp that I could probably shave with them: if I had an electric razor that would probably be about to pack up as well and so I might need to.
Built-in obsolesce is a well-known thing. Increasingly, people are seeing through the ruse. Why should I buy a new toaster – which hardly performs a function that is capable of upgrade – and bin the old one just because one tiny part has come adrift? Our increased distaste for condemning items to landfill has contributed to this. So too has the cost-of-living crisis. There’s also an increasing sense of healthy cynicism that asks “why should the manufacturers be able to get away with this?”
In the past, we bought things from places we physically visited and a repair service was often part of the offering. More people had the ability to fix things because they were designed to be fixed. Many things, like clothes, were made or altered locally or by families and so a rip, a shrink or an adjustment was easy to deal with. Nowadays, the immediate reaction is to bin them (or, at best, take them a recycling centre) and get something new. After all, decades of advertising have convinced us that what we really crave more than anything else is the latest model. It is this and this alone that will give us pleasure and satisfaction. Throw the old away – it’s a small price to pay in the quest for perfect happiness.
Just to be sure, or so the cynical argument runs, the makers add some weakness that makes items pack up, ideally just after the expiry of any guarantee. That having happened, you have to take action. How can you live without a toaster? With no one to repair it, the obvious step is to go down to the shop or, increasingly, online to buy a new one, whereupon the whole cycle begins anew.
The Right to Repair movement resulted, in 2021, in a change to the law. However, as this article in Wired points out, this is perhaps in need of repair itself. Several product types, including smartphones and laptops, lie outside the regulations and some of the periods of compliance are up to 10 years. For the time being, it seems as if we’re still on our own in trying to deal with the product failures.
The repair café movement has done a lot to help address this. There is, however, more at stake than just the satisfaction of having something work that previously didn’t. As Mike Gilbert, one of the organisers of Hungerford’s recent event, pointed out, “we want to reduce the amount of stuff that is thrown into landfill: we also want to help people understand how to mend their own things – this way we can hope for a more sustainable future.”
Mike himself helped drive home the second lesson to me. We’d been gifted a small wood-chipper which stopped working about fifteen seconds after we first used it. He established in about the same period of time that something had blocked it: this was removed and the thing now works. Penny and I had instinctively believed that it had just packed up, like things do, and that was that.
As one visitor commented at the event, following a similar revelation, “I’ve been inspired.” So have I.
If you want to volunteer, or to know more about what the Hungerford Repair Café does, please click here. The next one will take place at the Croft Hall in Hungerford on Saturday 18 March from 10am to 12.30pm. Assuming that the various items in our house continue their slow disintegration, you’ll see me there. If not then it might be because, inspired by Mike Gilbert’s example with the wood-chipper, I have learned a bit more about fixing things for myself. I might even have expanded my tool kit which is currently dominated by a can of WD40, a roll of duct tape and a large hammer. Mind you, it’s amazing what you can accomplish even just armed with those…
PS. Not many, if any, people have written songs about (or largely about) repair cafés: but I have. Click here to listen to The Good Repairer.