The Edinburgh Remakery is a social enterprise that teaches repair. The shop sells refurbished computers and furniture, and hosts workshops where people can come along and learn how to repair their own things. There’s a big vision behind it:
We want to generate a repair revolution. This means changing the way people use and dispose of resources, encouraging manufacturers to build things to last and to be fixable, and making sure the facilities are in place to allow people to repair and reuse.
The Remakery was founded by Sophie Unwin, after spending a year in Nepal. There she saw a culture of repair and stewardship that was absent in our own throwaway society – but it used to be there. Previous generations knew how to fix things. This generation just needs some re-skilling, access to the tools to do it, and some encouragement to give it a go.
The Decline of Skills
It’s a similar idea to the London-based Restart Project, with the added benefits of a permanent centre, and proceeds from the shop help to fund the community engagement work.
These projects are important right now, because repair skills are still out there in society, but they might not be for very long. Many repair businesses have gone already. Those that remain are often struggling. Since there is little demand for repair, there’s a shortage of younger people ready to step up when older repairers retire.
I’ve seen this myself in Luton. When I moved here a few years ago, the High Town area had a tailor, a lawnmower repair shop and a TV repair shop. The first two have since retired and the shops have closed. The TV place was destroyed earlier this year when a car drove into it, and the owner can’t afford to fix it. The shop is boarded up, and there’s a mobile number on the door if you want your TV repaired.
This decline in repair facilities is repeated up and down the country, and it makes the throwaway culture self-reinforcing. Eventually we won’t be able repair things even if we want to. There’s a window of opportunity for creating businesses like the Remakery, catching and passing on repair skills before they’re gone.
Incidentally, it’s no accident that the Remakery has popped up in Scotland, as the country has an ambitious zero waste plan. It fits within a national plan to reduce waste, and has been able to access funding that wouldn’t be available elsewhere.
But it is demonstrating a model, and if it succeeds in running without external funding (it’s gone from 50% to 80% self-funding over the last two years, so it’s well on its way) then there’s no reason why others couldn’t replicate it in other cities.
Restore and Reuse
There is a growing trend towards restoring things that would otherwise be thrown away and replaced. The Repair Café Foundation was started in in Amsterdam by Martine Postma, who strives for sustainability at a local level.
Repair Cafés create a space for people to meet repair things together, with all of the tools and materials you need. Expert volunteers give their time to teach people how to mend broken items, including clothes, furniture, electrical appliances, bicycles, crockery, appliances, toys, and much more.
There are now over 1,000 Repair Cafés all over the world from India to Australia and Japan, and the organisation supports local groups to open their own. Restoring repair skills not only fixes things, but also helps build communities.