Fightback against throwaway society

Repair Sheffield at Heeley City Farm: Gordon Ferguson taking apart a broken toaster
Repair Sheffield at Heeley City Farm: Gordon Ferguson taking apart a broken toaster
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“THE message is, don’t chuck it, mend it,” says Gordon Ferguson, who is surrounded by an array of screwdrivers and sundry electrical components.

Nearby, in Heeley City Farm’s community room, Sarah Hardy is showing Angela Walker how the farm’s sewing machine works while Graeme Symington tinkers with Angela’s bicycle. This is ‘Repair Sheffield’ - after London and Glasgow, Sheffield will be the third British City to host a regular ‘Repair Cafe’.

“The Repair Cafe idea started in the Netherlands,” says Gordon. “You find a space, set some tables up, then you invite people who know how to mend things and the general public who come in with broken stuff to get it mended. You try to have refreshments too, so you get a conversation going with repairers and the public.”

Like Antiques Roadshow with carrier bags. We have, in Britain, become a ‘throwaway culture’ says Gordon, adding that the Repair Cafe is a small step back to the repair and maintain culture of only two generations ago.

“In Sheffield we’ve got lots of skilled workers who may not be using those skills anymore because they’re not working,” says Angela Walker. “And there’s now a generation gap, because a lot of younger people are not used to fixing things, so those skills are becoming lost.”

“The skills we’ll need for the future aren’t valued at the present,” says Graeme Symington, ominously.

The Sheffield Repair Cafe idea grew out of Transition Sheffield, part of an international alliance of groups helping people find local ideas to improve their communities in the face of climate change and energy crises.

“It’s about getting together to move to a more sustainable way of organising society,” says Gordon. “The Transition workshops tend to be about food - I’m actually bored stupid by growing food, but like mending things.”

Gordon’s dad was a fitter, and repaired watches as a hobby, so Gordon grew up in a mending and fixing household, and has now returned to the craft in a big way after retiring as an IT systems specialist.

“I know retired people who sit at home and do hobbies and things. They’ve they got these repair skills, but they are disappearing.”

A key idea of Repair Sheffield is to inspire retired menders and fixers share their skills with others. Angela Walker visited the Repair Cafe in Glasgow and was left in no doubt of its value for the retired tradesman and their families.

“It’s just a creche for blokes really,” said one of the Glasgow menders, happily. “My wife goes shopping and I come and fix things for people.”

Repair Sheffield was formed last autumn, and repair skills already on its books include sewing, computers,bicycles, electrical appliances, and washing machines, with local organisations Access Space, Recycle Bikes, Portland Works, and Heeley City Farm involved so far, as well as Transition Sheffield.

The first full cafe will be held at Heeley City Farm on April 13 with plans for another around the same time at Portland Works in Randall Street, off Bramall Lane. In the meantime local menders or fixers interested in getting involved are urged to make themselves known.

Part of the Repair Cafe ethos is to encourage the public to think about repairing rather than chucking. So existing professional repairers should have nothing to fear, says Graeme Symington.

“We can’t guarantee to fix everything at the cafe, so we’d like to direct people to a network of repairers so people can give their prized treasures a new lease of life.”

It is hoped the scheme will inspire more people to try fixing their own shoes, bikes, computers or toasters.

People will also find out how tricky it is to mend many modern products, which are often built to be disposable.

The counterpart to throwaway modern culture, notes Graeme, is that the internet is a fabulous resource for menders and mending evangelists, with explanations and spares available to all, if you know where to look.

James Wallbank, of Access Space, attends European conferences on these issues. “The idea of a circular repair reuse economy is gaining a lot of interest now, and I think this is the way forward,” he says.

Gordon has dismembered a toaster, only to find, as expected, that its innards are not repairable. He’s having better luck with an upmarket table light.

“This is a good lamp but the gubbins inside breaks easily, so I’ve converted it into a low energy led reading light using some bits from on the internet.”

Shoe heels, mobile phone screens, trainer glue, computer parts and much much more is available out there, say Repair Sheffield.

All you need are the skills and confidence to set to with your old phone, trainers, boots, bike or computer and get it going again, with all the pride (and joy, say the RepSheff menders enthusiastically) that this will bring. 0(Don’t expect too much from your £10 toaster, though.); tel 2686458.