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Repair Cafe phenomenon on the rise to fix broken things

Community-based gatherings shift mindset of those attending to focus on repurposing
Mowers, tools, appliances and bikes were repaired last year. (Brian Chilibeck photo)

The growing phenomenon of the “Repair Cafe” marks a return to the old ways, when recycling was encouraged, along with re-use and avoiding waste.

“The Repair Cafe is actually a worldwide movement,” said Sally Lum, one of the organizers of an upcoming event in Chilliwack.

The philosophy of these community gatherings puts the emphasis on repurposing, and fixing broken items, which runs counter to the disposable nature of our society, and our belongings, Lum said.

Mowers, tools, appliances and bikes being repaired last year. (Brian Chilibeck photo)

The idea of introducing the Repair Cafe phenomenon to Chilliwack had been on Lum’s radar for years, as someone with a strong interest in keeping items out of the landfill.

It can be upsetting to see perfectly good items end up at the dump.

“Sometimes there’s not even an attempt at repurposing,” Lum said a tad wistfully.

Lum said she has been known to rescue unloved items left by the wayside in the past.

“I’m married to a very handy guy, so it’s easier for me to take that position,” she admitted.

Mowers, tools, appliances, bikes and more were repaired last year. (Brian Chilibeck photo)

Frustrated with throwaway mentality, Dutch environmentalist and journalist Martine Postma came up with the concept and held the first one in Amsterdam in 2009.

Attending a free Repair Cafe in 2024 might remind some folks of the ways tight-knit communities used to operate, promoting social cohesion by connecting neighbours, maintaining and sharing repair expertise. Lum suggested it could even encourage some to adopt sustainable ways like repairing items regularly, to keep them going longer.

The first Repair Cafe was in Yarrow was a success last year. A small band of eight volunteers showed up, and together they managed to repair 24 items brought in to be fixed.

“We had a nice response. People left quite satisfied,” Lum noted.

They repaired bikes, and mowers. They sharpened knives and tools. They took a stab at tuning up weed-whackers, chain saws and sewing machines.

“There was a social component to it last year, as people chatted. Some learned to fix their own bikes right alongside the bike guy,” she said.

Only one attempt was a bit of a bust when they were unable to get the back of a wristwatch open.

“It was a matter of having the right tools.”

It’s also annoying that so many of our tech-based items today are not able to be repaired easily - by design.

There’s no guarantee that they can fix everything that comes in, Lum said. But they’ll have experienced folks on-hand ready to give it the old college try.

”We’re hoping to shift people’s mindset.”

A second stab at the event is being organized by volunteers, with the Repair Cafe, set for April 13, 10-2, at the Yarrow Community School in Chilliwack. Fixers as well as community members with items in need of repair are invited to the free event. For details call 604-823-0257.

READ ALSO: Recycling items builds bridges

Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering the arts, city hall, as well as Indigenous, and climate change stories.
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