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Guest post: normalising repair and challenging “perceived obsolescence”

This post is by Brighton Repair Café co-founder Victoria Jackson. We started around the same time and we have so much in common.

When we set up the Brighton Repair Café in November 2012 we didn’t realise how big the global fixer movement was going to become. We thought it was a great idea (having seen the article in the New York Times on the Dutch Repair Cafés) and wanted to give it a go in Brighton as a fun social activity, which embodied our interests in Sustainability.

To begin with the three of us invited friends along to do textiles, clothing and jewellery repair. I set up our WordPress blog and started publishing our activities straight away so that we could use this and other social media to encourage more people to join us.

brighton blog

Gradually our team of volunteers expanded and when Mattia joined us to help with electrical repairs the popularity of the events quickly grew as these repairs are in the highest demand and are the least accessible for most people.

We see a lot of toasters, kettles, vacuum cleaners, speakers and headphones being brought in for Mattia to look at. More often than not he is able to help people open up their product, diagnose and fix the problem. However, we are constantly using the money from discretionary donations to buy the many different screwdrivers needed to open up electrical goods.

Mattia at work

This need for specialised tools is one of the major barriers to people even contemplating repairing their things, along with a lack of knowledge, access to information and confidence to do it alone, and the low-cost convenience of replacing goods. We are keen to introduce electronic repairs into our events as this is an even more inaccessible area of repair than electrical repair and we think the work that the Restart Project is doing is really valuable.

Whilst helping people repair their objects at Repair Cafés reduces waste, this is not all that the events do. They also normalise repairing which otherwise tends to be a private, invisible and restricted practice. The events make repairing a public and social activity as the repairs are conducted in the company of others outside the home.

Like the Restart Project, having an online presence means our activities are visible far beyond the geographical and temporal constraints of our events; increasing the visibility raises awareness of the re-emergence of the repair practice and its popularity.

Repairing has a transformational effect on participants (both volunteers and the owners of the items) as it makes us realise that we do not have to throw our things away and replace them when they break. At the same time in repairing our broken things we also gain greater emotional attachment to them as they begin to evolve with us. Increasing what Jonathan Chapman calls ‘emotional durability’ which in turn the ‘perceived obsolescence’ of those things.

The Centre for Sustainable Design recently conducted some research into the Maker and Fixer Movements, which reveals that ‘built-in obsolescence’ is one of the greatest concerns of Repair Café volunteers. The Repair Café events certainly highlight which products are more difficult to repair due to their design and the manufacturing methods used to create them (e.g. heat sealed units that look slick and are faster and cheaper to produce but are virtually impossible to open up to repair).

However, there is much more to them than this; these events encourage a shift in our relationships with the objects we share our lives with; tackling the more pervasive ‘perceived obsolescence’ whereby we fall out of love with our things and therefore dispose of, or replace them, before they become defunct and transforming us from consumers into owners.

3 responses

  1. Niall McGrath

    I spent 14 years mending electronic audio equipment (and some domestic stuff) as part of my work until the year 2003. In total I have probably mended about 3,000 things.
    I live in Clapham and am interested in seeing if I can assist you in some way.

  2. janetgunter

    Hi Niall, Wow! Please join our Meetup to find out about upcoming events. The best way to get involved is to drop in to a Restart Party. Look forward to meeting you.

  3. janetgunter

    Here’s the link:

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