Regeneration Cafe, fixing it for free

Organised by Vision 21, the Gloucestershire Joint Waste Team and product design students from the University of Gloucestershire, the Cafe offers a fresh approach to the mending of everyday items.

Participants are invited to bring anything from small electrical items to textiles and bikes to be repaired by a team of committed and skilled volunteers. By sitting together over a cup of tea and a slice of cake, the event encourages discourse and the sharing of knowledge between members. In a world full of throwaway products, planned obsolescence and a decline in practical skills, the cafe aims to create a community around the fixing of items that might otherwise be thrown away.

A hum of activity filled the Cafe this Saturday with various desks set up for electrical items, textiles and sharpening. Small groups gathered to watch the volunteers investigate problems and begin the repair process while others joined the product design students dissecting electricals. Among the possessions being fixed were a printer, radio, dress strap, coat hem, an electric blanket and even a stapler.

Mandy one of the menders at the textiles table explained how her dislike of ‘throwing stuff away’ motivated her to volunteer at the Cafe. She enjoyed working with different textiles each week and ‘not knowing what’s coming through the door’. The diversity of repairs from broken zips to holes and rips call for a different approach each time. She explained how some clients are happy with a cheerful, obvious fix while others prefered ‘an invisible mend’; a challenge she relishes. She described the ‘privilege’ she felt when repairing a ‘ beautiful Russian, pre-war coat with a shredded shoulder’ though seemed equally happy to teach an inexperienced sewer how to attach a button. Rather buying supplies new, in a truly sustainable fashion Mandy explained how local charity shops put haberdashery items such as odd buttons and zips aside for her to bring to the cafe. With such an excellent service it is unsurprising demand has been so high that the volunteers have been taking extra work home to repair for the following session.

While the progression of technology has heralded major advancements in the efficiency of products, design and manufacture, it has also brought a decline in mending skills. University courses are offering less workshop time and more computer classes as production becomes increasingly digitised. Further, planned obsolescence means many products have an artificially limited useful life and are no longer designed to be fixed. At the electronics table for example, a controller for an electric blanket was fitted with concealed screws, a feature arguably devised to deter DIY. One volunteer explained how the older items such as a fifty-year-old mixer were ironically easier to fix than much newer products.

Places like Regeneration cafe have the potential to change attitudes towards repair and essentially reduce the number of items being discarded as useless. They act as antidote to throwaway culture and combat the ecological impact of broken goods one item at a time. More than that they bring people together in the spirit of communal endeavour, help keep old skills alive and create new ones.

dsc05422eThe cafe is based in St Andrews Church, Cheltenham and is open on the first Saturday of every month 10am-1:30pm (excluding January). Find out more here

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