Did you know about these local groups aiming to help us reduce unnecessary waste and repair, reuse and recycle as much as we can? Katy Edgington finds out more
With the eyes of the world on the UK last month as world leaders and activists gathered in Glasgow for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), there’s never been a more important time for us all to do our bit for the environment.
We all know the three Rs – reduce, reuse, recycle – that can help us be more environmentally friendly: reducing what we buy and use, reusing what we have or passing it on to someone else who can use it, and recycling our waste where possible. A vital step in that chain is repairing objects that are faulty or damaged, so there’s no need to replace them and they can be used again.
That’s all very well, but not everyone is comfortable getting out the toolkit and taking a screwdriver to their vacuum cleaner or threading up a needle to stitch a ripped seam. That’s where repair cafés come in. This worldwide phenomenon is said to have started in the late 2000s in the Netherlands and since then repair cafés have sprung up across continents.
Pam Beale is the driving force behind Lichfield Repair and Share Café. Set up around three years ago, it started off under the direction of Kate Gomez of the popular local history blog Lichfield Lore, but Pam is now responsible for all the organising and promoting the monthly café at Curborough Community Centre.
Lichfield Repair and Share Café is a group of likeminded people operating under the umbrella of Transition Lichfield, an organisation that brings together different elements of the community to support the local economy and for the good of each member group. So, how does it work?
The Café’s drop-in sessions are open to all visitors who can bring an item or items for repair.
There are currently around 12 repairers who are part of the group, all of whom volunteer their time, so skills will vary depending on who’s available for each session.
“We have around six people who can do odd jobs and repair electricals, a few sewers and crafters who can do repairs, and someone whose expertise is marquetry and carpentry who also sharpens tools,” explains Pam.
“We try to skillshare so that people can learn from others how to mend things or learn a craft. It could be crochet, or how to darn your socks, or how to wire a lamp. We open the doors from 2pm until 5pm and people show up with things – there’s no need to book in. And we serve refreshments when we can, too – that’s where the café part comes in.”
There are no restrictions on the items you can bring along, so if in doubt, bring it in. If the volunteers think your item is beyond repair they will always say so. People have brought in all sorts of objects over the last three years.
“We’ve had a few old clocks that people really value, but mostly it’s kettles, hairdryers and other electricals,” says Pam. “We’ve had vacuum cleaners, lawnmowers, a pushchair where the brake was getting stuck. A few laptops and tablets. Our repairers are sensible people and if you want some advice as to whether to fix something or take it to the recycling centre, we can do that type of check.”
This really important service is provided free of charge, but you can make donations in exchange for repairs which are put back into the Café to pay for room hire, refreshments and so on. Pam believes repeating, sharing and living by the ‘repair and reuse’ mantra is critical if we are to stop replacing goods unnecessarily and reduce our waste problem.
“We’re living in a throwaway age when people just get rid and get another if something isn’t working,” she says. “That attitude needs to change – we all know that. When we can repair an item for someone that they thought was broken, it’s a great joy when they can take it home and they don’t need to buy another one.”
Most of us, when we take broken or obsolete items to the recycling centre, think we’re taking it there to be dealt with properly and recycled. Some of it is, but by no means all. Electrical recycling waste is a massive problem. Pam thinks manufacturers should be playing a bigger role in preventing items ending up in the recycling centre at all, by making spare parts available or taking items back for repair.
“Manufacturers do pay into a central fund that’s used by local authorities to recycle electrical waste, but that’s the wrong way around,” she insists. “There is Right to Repair legislation coming in, which will mean for certain new products the manufacturer has to have affordable spares available, but it’s very limited. They have got to make things last longer.”
Lichfield Repair and Share Café takes place on the third Saturday of every month (except December and August) at Curborough, but Pam and the other volunteers are always looking for ways to get the message out and reach more people. They hosted a pop-up in The Nest space in Lichfield city centre, organised by Nurture Network in the former Marks & Spencer. They’ve done repair sessions at the Methodist church’s eco-festival in September as part of The Great Big Green Week, and at the Fuse Festival.
There’s also a new repair and share café that recently started up in Burntwood. Local councillor Sue Woodward was instrumental in getting it set up and a few repairers who live locally offered their help. The first session took place in early December.
They have looked into creating a ‘Library of Things’, where members borrow useful items without having to buy their own, but that’s still a little beyond reach for now. However, Pam recommends the food sharing app Olio, which has a borrow section for other items, and Streetbank, another app where you can share items with the community. So if you’ve got a pressure washer, for example, and you’re happy to loan it out you can do it that way.
The next Repair and Share Café at Curborough Community Centre will take place between 2-5pm on 15 January 2022. Follow Lichfield Repair & Share Café on Facebook, @lichrepaircafe on Instagram or @lichfieldshare on Twitter for updates.
If you or someone you know has repair skills you’re happy to volunteer, you can get in touch with Pam and the team on firstname.lastname@example.org.
A preloved Christmas
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but it can also be the most wasteful. As luck would have it, The ReUsers have a more eco-friendly way for you to shop this Christmas as well as accepting donations in the aftermath, when you inevitably find you’ve been gifted two of the same thing or need to make space for the kids’ new toys.
Conveniently sited on the same road as Sutton Coldfield Household Recycling Centre, The ReUsers save around 250 tonnes of ‘waste’ from landfill every year by rescuing, restoring and recycling secondhand items, in partnership with Birmingham City Council and Veolia Environmental Services.
Their huge Christmas shop was officially opened by the Mayor of Sutton Coldfield, Councillor Terry Wood, on 8 November. They have thousands of new and preloved Christmas items for you to browse, from wreaths, ornaments, tinsel, trees and vintage baubles, to Santa hats, Christmas jumpers, CDs, books, gift bags and wrapping paper. Each year the shop is gaining in popularity, and already by January the team will be preparing for next Christmas.
If you’re looking for a more environmentally friendly gifting option this year, The ReUsers’ site is the perfect place to find hidden treasures that others don’t want but are too good to throw away. It has different departments including antiques, bikes, electricals, furniture, garden and sports, with all items cleaned and tested before being sold. They also run an eBay shop where you can view and purchase some of the more unusual items from the comfort of your sofa.
It’s not just a great environmental cause you’re supporting when you visit. The ReUsers is a social enterprise – part of the JERICHO organisation – which aims to break barriers and change lives by creating jobs, work experience places, and training opportunities.
You can also show your support by donating unwanted goods. The donations station operates on an appointment basis during regular opening hours. A flood of donations of all shapes and sizes, new and preloved, since the start of the pandemic has meant that in 2021 the team were able to extend their bookshop, and open a clothes shop – modern and vintage – and a haberdashery.
Find out more at www.thereusers.uk, or drop into the shop Monday to Saturday between 9am and 4pm.