Repair Cafes Fix Stuff, Bring Communities Together

Last year, The New York Times went to the Netherlands to report on a new brand of social activism: The Repair Café. Free of cost and staffed by volunteers, a Repair Café is a place for locals to bring broken household items—not to throw the damaged things away, but to fix them.

Repair Cafés are a novel idea. After all, we live in an age of convenience: ending is much easier than mending. But the idea of communal repair struck a nerve. Since the Times visited the Netherlands, repair cafés, fix-it clinics, and volunteer-run repair groups have sprung up all around the world—from England to Germany, the United States to Canada.

Recently, Al Jazeera’s earthrise—which reports on inspiring ecological, scientific, and design projects—went back to the Netherlands to see how Repair Cafés were faring.

As it turns out, they’re doing very well. There are now 96 Repair Cafés in Holland—three times more than when the New York Times did their report  a year and a half ago.

Fixing bicycles at the repair cafe

“No money changes hands to open a Repair Café,” said earthrise host Matan Rochlitz as he watched volunteers fix microwaves, lamps, and furniture. “Local people request it and word of mouth spreads the message.”

The “message” encompasses more than just repair. Repair cafés are equal parts social project and environmental mission. The people who volunteer and attend these repair events are fighting back against throwaway culture. Every object fixed is one less that needs to go into the waste bin. Every item that stays in use is one less that needs to be manufactured.

“If something doesn’t work anymore, it’s not worth anything anymore, so people throw stuff away without thinking about how it can be fixed again,” one volunteer explained while pushing a torn dress through a sewing machine. Repair reroutes that kind of thinking. People leave Repair Cafés with a better connection to their things and to each other.

“When we arrived, it looked like the Repair Café was all about fixing vacuum cleaners, and it is,” Rochlitz explains in the video. “But it’s a lot more than that. It’s about making use of the available materials, the available skills, and essentially about repairing communities.”

Check out the whole earthrise segment above.