Get your ‘fix’ and reduce waste with the Repair Cafe

Have you ever thrown something away because you didn’t know how to repair it or getting it fixed was too expensive? You aren’t alone. Each year in the UK, millions of fixable items are sent to landfill. However, Repair Cafes all over the world are trying to shrink these numbers by fixing your broken items for free.

It’s no secret that we are living in a throw away culture. With the convenience of buying new at our fingertips and losing our repair skills over time, damaged or broken items are not getting the chance at second lives. In the UK, £140 million worth of clothing, 2 million tonnes of electronics, 22 million furniture items, and over 28 million toys are sent to landfill each year.

Repair Cafes are pop-ups run by volunteers offering a free repair service for broken items such as clothes, electronics, furniture and anything else they have the ability to fix.

Their goal is to limit the amount of avoidable waste going to landfills, creating a more circular economy, and helping teach people the skills they need to repair these items themselves. We went down to our local Repair Cafe in Swansea, to meet their volunteers, speak to customers, and see first-hand how a Repair Cafe operates.

We’ve lost the ability to repair things really, so it becomes almost single-use, and they don’t have to be.

We went down to our local Repair Cafe in Swansea, to meet their volunteers, speak to customers, and see first-hand how a Repair Cafe operates.

Swansea Repair Cafe

Chris Day, volunteer head of the Swansea Repair Cafe, re-opened the service just over six months ago. Whilst running a Swansea-based charity, Beyond Recycling, Chris knew about Repair Cafes through his environmental work but when he discovered the Swansea pop up had previously closed, he felt it was his duty to get it back up and running again.

After receiving training and advice through Repair Cafe Wales, who offer support to communities wanting to start their own local Repair Cafe, the launch of the volunteer led service has seen great success. “It’s gone from strength to strength” Chris enthusiastically exclaims, with new people turning up to each session to receive a welcoming reception and dedicated service by their talented team.    

How the Repair Cafe works

Upon arriving at the Repair Cafe, Chris took us through the easy steps to get your items repaired. First you need to fill out a form with your details, explain your item and what is wrong with it. Your item will then be assigned to the best repairer for the job.

You can sit with the repairer as they work their magic so they can take you through how they are fixing it, with the hopes of you picking up the skill yourself. After they have tried their best to fix your broken belonging, you are free to go! It’s as easy as that.

What to bring

So, what can you bring in? Almost anything. Speaking to Chris and the repairers at the Cafe, they have seen everything from the regular laptop, stereos, lamps and clothes to more obscure items like mahogany antique record players and 24-year-olds Furbys.

The volunteers urge people to bring in anything at all that’s. Lewis, one of the repairers, urges people to always think about bringing something in before throwing it away. “Even if it looks if it’s like hanging by a thread, bring it in. Worst comes to worst you throw it away anyway.”

Deby, who is a freelance seamstress and passionate about keeping clothes out of landfill, volunteers fixing up holes, zips, and seams on people’s clothes. “I think it’s important for clothes to get used as much as possible because so many get sent to landfill, it’s awful. We’ve lost the ability to repair things really, so it becomes almost single-use, and they don’t have to be”.



Rewarding repairs

It was clear from our trip to the Repair Cafe that the community has positively responded to the service the Cafe provides. Speaking to those getting their items fixed, it was a resounding helpful and invaluable experience for all.

One customer, who came in to have her laptop repaired, had nothing but praise for the Cafe. The Repair Cafe’s free services mean anyone can come down to get their broken items repaired. She explained, “It’s been a positive. He’s done something to my laptop that would have cost 25 pounds just to have a look at it and then more money after that. It’s a life saver for me”.

It’s really nice to get a group of people together who would not necessarily be together otherwise and watching them all now problem solve and work as a team together is really rewarding…

Another customer also emphasised the monetary benefits of the Repair Cafe, “It saves money and it’s much better for the environment.” She came down to get her lamp repaired, adding, “It’s just amazing, fantastic. I had a lamp that was broken, and they fixed it really quickly. Now I can see again when I’m putting my kids to bed. I wish everyone would bring their stuff in.” 

The Repair Cafe is not only a big plus for the planet and the happy customers, but also for volunteers themselves. The repairers, who offer their time to lend their skills to the public, have become a diverse and united fix-it team.

Chris explained, “It’s really nice to get a group of people together who would not necessarily be together otherwise and watching them all now problem solve and work as a team together is really rewarding… It’s like watching your team score a goal”.

The team has also found it rewarding to help people fix their broken items. Chris said, “It’s always super rewarding to see somebody having their item that they thought was completely broken fixed, that’s great.”

Additionally, Adrian, a university geography professor, found that volunteering was a great way to reignite his passion for fixing things. Adrian commented, “It’s great now that I have the chance to help other people and put those skills into practice.”  Whether their motivation to join the Repair Cafe was to limit waste, be a part of a team, get that feel-good feeling of helping others or putting their skills to good use, it’s clear that the volunteers enjoy what they do.

The future of Repair Cafe

What’s the future like for the Swansea Repair Cafe? It seems to be positive and bright with Chris having big plans for the project.

“I’d love for there to be lots of repair cafes. I’d like there to be loads just in Swansea and loads all over the UK. Our research has shown that the closer it is, the easier it is for people to get access to these, the more likely they are going to come.”

If you are interested in getting something fixed, joining a repair team or starting your own Repair Cafe, go to https://repaircafewales.org/ if you live in Wales, or https://repaircafe.org/en/visit/ if you live in the rest of the UK or anywhere else on the globe.

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