By Immy - April 2nd, 2023 | Posted in Article 3 Comments

Since discovering that there are hundreds of repair cafés around the country, I’ve been wanting to visit one. I finally got round to searching for ‘repair cafés in Southampton’ on the internet and found a brilliant timetable of pop-ups in the area, on Hampshire County Council‘s website. So on a sunny Saturday morning in March, I went along to one in St Denys, Southampton with my brother-in-law, Gary, who is himself, an excellent repairer.

I mainly wanted to find out how it all worked so I could write this article but I suddenly realised that I could take along my leather bag, which the shoe menders hadn’t been able to fix and a very fine gold chain that needed mending, to experience the system first hand.

Repair cafe 1When we arrived, I was booked in and given a form to fill out, with my name and item. The jewellery repairer wasn’t there that day but Claire, who runs the events, suggested I take my bag straight over to Sue and Helen, who are both excellent needleworkers. Sue, who has her own business ‘Mrs Badcrumble‘ quickly assessed my bag, which had been chewed by a rabbit (no names mentioned!) and suggested strong upholstery thread for the mend. I hadn’t thought of doing it like that and was delighted when Sue said she had time to do it for me before I left. Both Sue and Helen were lovely to talk to and I chatted to them for a while, discovering that Sue had been an agricultural entomologist and Helen, a jobbing researcher for Southampton University. They also passed on a great tip for when you are stitching a particularly tough item, and that is to use pliers to pull the needle through – making sure to pull dead straight to avoid the needle bending and snapping. This is exactly what repair cafés are all about, sharing skills and knowledge so that we can help ourselves and others. Just before I left them, I asked the ladies what the most unusual thing they’d had to mend was and it was decided that stitching up an African drum bag probably topped the list!

Talking to Claire again about running the café, I asked her what was the hardest thing about it and it was the usual issue of the time commitment needed, so if anyone fancies going along to help for a few hours, at their local repair café, I’m sure they’d be grateful for an extra pair of hands. Claire had all the forms for items that have been brought in for repair since the café started and leafed through the substantial stack, mentioning numerous items including hedge trimmers, sewing machines, trousers and shirts as well as a couple of things that proved to be beyond the scope of the repairers. At the January cafe, it transpired that they had nearly 50 items brought in, so all her efforts and those of the other volunteers are obviously much appreciated by the local community. Sue then returned with my beautifully repaired bag, which I fully intend to show off, like a badge of honour, to anyone and everyone.Repair cafe 4

Things were starting to wind up for the morning so Gary and I went over to talk to the other repairers. Dan, who is a Chartered Civil Engineer, does some of the general electrical and mechanical repairs and specialises in sewing machines. When we asked how this had come about, he told us that his grandmother had given him an old Singer 66 machine when he was a boy and he had got interested in the mechanics of it. It could only do straight stitching and go forwards but what it did do, it did absolutely perfectly. Dan then found a more advanced 1908 model which could do zigzag stitching, which required refurbishing and a lifelong passion began! He often mends sewing machines at St Denys but that morning, he’d had a lamp with a wobbly fitting, a blood pressure monitor, hair tongs and a toaster brought to his table. We asked him what was wrong with the toaster and he replied that, after taking it apart and putting it back together again, he suspected it was a large bit of toast, which made us giggle! What mattered most though, was that it was returned to working order and sent back home with its owners, rather than being thrown in the bin.

Repair cafe 2

The other volunteers were packing up by then, so we hurriedly took a few photos and went to speak to Simon and Neville who also have their own businesses: Simon Mason – Home Handyman & PAT testing and Neville’s Basset Repair Shop where he repairs all sorts of appliances. Simon has even set up his own repair café in Totton and pointed me towards the Restarters website; a global network helping others repair at community events. They also gave us another great tip to take away. Have you ever had a plastic lug, clip or handle break off of something, rendering it completely useless, despite everything else being in perfect working order? Apparently mixing superglue with bicarbonate of soda produces a really strong plastic-type bond which is great for that kind of repair. I’m looking forward to trying that one out. On asking them both what their motivation was for volunteering, Neville quipped ‘showing off’ which made us all laugh but the guys concluded that the core reasons were, the satisfaction of returning something to working order, saving stuff from landfill, reducing waste and the challenge of solving the puzzle as to why something doesn’t work. Simon said ‘some people do sudoku – I like to repair things’. And even if there is a small element of ‘showing off’, why not, I say? All the repairers are, not only skilled, but generous people, giving some of their own time up to help others – and I for one, salute them. I can’t wait to go back now, meet the jewellery person and hopefully try some of the yummy cakes, that we saw there but didn’t have a chance to sample!

3 thoughts on “Our Visit to a Repair Café

  1. Also I have an alarm clock which was bought in Malaysia and worked well for years but no longer works. I’d be pleased if someone could look at it

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