Photo: How to host a repair café

A repair café is one way neighbours can help neighbours keep things out of the landfill! (Credit: Wai Chu Cheng)

Recently I stumbled on the repair café model. I asked Wai Chu of Toronto's Repair Café how people like you and me can fix household items instead of tossing them and buying new:

Why do we need repair cafés?

Household items have become cheaper to replace than to repair. And the list of companies that refurbish items or recycle broken appliances is short.

What is a repair café?

It's part of a growing international network that began in the Netherlands — now in 200 Dutch cities and towns, as well as 13 countries in Europe, North and South America and Australia.

Repair cafés enlist volunteer fixers to help fix broken household items and teach basic repair skills. They help shift us from a throw-away to fix-it society! (I know many of you have been hungry for this type of solution.)

Most of the fixers are hobbyists who enjoy helping others and want to keep items out of the landfill. Fixers can repair computers, toasters, lamps, chairs, clothes, jewellery, books and more!

Is there a repair café in my city?

Meet Repair Café Toronto @RepairCafeTO, Calgary @RepairCafeYYC, Peterborough and Nanaimo!

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Repair Café Toronto launched in 2013. They host monthly cafés with the help of more than 100 volunteers (fixers and support) and a dozen community partners. To date, they've taught over 645 visitors and repaired 467 household items!

They hope to inspire people to start cafés in their own neighbourhoods!

How to host a repair café

  1. Look for co-organizers
  2. Download a startup package from the Repair Café Foundation
  3. Secure a community hub for a location
  4. Recruit fixers and volunteers
  5. Address liability: have insurance coverage and safety guidelines
  6. Promote and plan
  7. Get support from local groups and businesses
  8. Set up the venue
  9. Collect feedback or evaluation forms from visitors and volunteers
  10. Evaluate the results, make fixes and plan the next café!

Tips for success:

  1. Establish a strong core team — teamwork and collaboration are essential
  2. Create an atmosphere where people can relax, chat and learn: workstation layout, coffee, tea and snacks
  3. Keep the repair service free (welcome donations)
  4. Meet expectations — help people get things fixed and learn (building their confidence) while offering quality customer service and professional work
  5. Retain, steward and grow the team of volunteers
  6. Work with local businesses

If you too believe that a repair café can help transform society — neighbours helping neighbours keep things out of the landfill— think about starting your own! (In the Toronto area? Register for a Repair Café Startup Workshop on Oct 25, 2014.)

How have you been able to repair, refurbish, revamp, reclaim, redesign, renew and rethink a household item otherwise destined for the landfill?

Lindsay Coulter, a fellow Queen of Green

September 15, 2014

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1 Comment

Jan 11, 2015
4:05 PM

Hi there! I am currently enrolled in Groundswell (Grassroots Economic Alternatives), and the project I am starting is to create the Vancouver Fix-It Collective! First inspiration came from seeing this post you did, and then after thinking a lot about it (also discovering the West Seattle Fixers Collective), and how it connected with my deep passion to see us move away from a throw-away society, challenge the status quo, build community, and develop local resilience…it just made sense! I live zero-waste myself and this feels like such a logical next step for me to start something like this…as I’m passionate about zero-waste, and fixing things/being creative….unleashing ones inner Mcguiver, so to speak.. This seems like something Vancouver needs, too (in fact quite surprised we don’t have it yet!)…so far the uptake has been great — just in mentioning the idea, it sparks a lot of interest! I’m still in early stages yet but looking to host an event asap, just gotta figure out the best venues space. I wanted to reach out and see whether or not you received any comments or responses from this post ….anyone interested, already doing this in Vancouver, or planning on it…etc…I’m looking to connect with anyone who is interested, love and welcome synergistic collaboration! Thanks Lindsay! Look forward to hearing back! Yay for zero-waste!

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