Fix-it café

Green Lifestyle

There’s a new hub for greenies who like to fix things – The Bower Reuse and Repair Café – and it’s an idea that’s spreading…

Glen Lambert

Glen Lambert, an electrician, spends his Wednesday afternoons at The Bower helping people fix their broken electrical appliances. Here he shows the insides of a CD player that he helped a customer to repair.

Credit: Molly O'Neill

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Broken electrical appliances – we’ve all been there. The element in the kettle stops working, the heater doesn’t turn on, or the lamp just seems to have had it. In today's high-consuming society, it’s easy to just go and buy yourself a new appliance, sending the old one to landfill when it can most probably be repaired with a tiny bit of know-how.

In 2010, a conscious thinking group in the Netherlands founded the concept of a Repair Café.

“The idea is to make a common meeting place for people with broken appliances to sit with a trained electrician and learn how to fix it, all while sharing a cup of tea with others who have come to repair broken goods,” explains Guido Verbist, general manager of The Bower Reuse and Repair Centre in Marckville, Sydney.

Twelve months ago, Verbist came to Australia from Berlin where he worked as a manager in a recycling centre with repair services and second hand goods – very similar to The Bower that he now runs.

This idea has spread throughout Europe with a number of city councils now running monthly or weekly donation-based Repair Cafés.

Verbist is now taking the Repair Café idea farther than it’s ever been in Australia.

“There have always been places to take your broken appliances and have them fixed, but never anywhere with this café-style unique element in Australia,” Verbist told us on a recent visit to the Café.

“Not only is it social, but conversations generally lead to talking about waste and sustainability, helping education in the community to grow.”

The Bower’s Repair Café is run by an eclectic team of staff and volunteers.

The Bower in Marrickville, Sydney, is home to Australia's first Repair Café, where people can fix their broken goods, or find 'new' second-hand treasures.

Susanna Dalmayer is one of the passionate team members, and a huge advocate for the program. She loves talking with visitors about eliminating unnecessary waste to landfill.

“What we can’t fix, we recycle to use the parts in other repairs,” explains Dalmayer as she enjoys one of her homemade biscuits.

“The most common items bought to us each week are lamps, usually with switch or wiring problems,” she says. “We can teach people how to make these basic repairs themselves.”

For the not-so-basic jobs, there is a qualified electrician on site, who is capable of fixing almost any appliance.

Happy customer Momo with the CD player he helped repair under the expert guidance of Glen Lambert, a professional electrician. Lambert told Green Lifestyle that it's always a great feeling when the switch is flicked and a broken appliance is working again. Momo told us he's looking forward to going home to dance to his favourite Michael Jackson album!

Verbist explains that, “we have the skills to be able to create a win-win situation”.

“You can have your appliances fixed and learn how to do it yourself, while we’re minimising items going to landfill, and have such great satisfaction out of the whole process.”

Along with the opportunity to mend your electrical goods – anything from a mobile phone to a TV or stereo – the Repair Café has volunteers who are handy with a bunch of other items too – like small furniture or bikes.

Image on right: Bike guru Stu Olsen works on Repair Café customer’s bikes with them or tinkers away at a large pile of donated bikes. Once he's brought the bikes to tip-top working order, they’re sold to the public in The Bower's shop.

Being blown away by the response the Repair Café has had, Verbist and the team have many projects and goals up their sleeves, including potentially a mobile repair team – think, travelling circus with DIY handymen, crossed with a tiny café that serves your grandmother's favourite biscuits.

Verbist says even those outside of Sydney can get excited about this idea. “Keep your eyes open in your local area, as there has been much interest around Australia for this initiative to continue to grow.”

Visit the Repair Café for yourself, run weekly in Marrickville in Sydney, out the back of The Bower Reuse & Repair Centre from 1pm–5pm on Wednesday’s.

Join the 15th Birthday Celebration for The Bower on September 20, 2014, where some of the great handywork of The Bower’s staff and volunteers will be auctioned. Click here for more info.