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Don’t despair: repair!

16:06 27/02/2013
So your toaster isn’t working. Your electric kettle is equally kaput. And as you crouch down in despair and sob, your trousers split. At this juncture, the majority of people would chuck it all in the bin. It’s a sad indictment of our way of life that we routinely throw away items costing €20 or more, sometimes much more, when they can be fixed with a new fuse that costs pennies or a couple of stitches.

It is this ‘spoilt brat’ attitude to life – your correspondent being as guilty as the next man – that drove Martine Postma to open the first Repair Café, in Amsterdam. The initiative does exactly what it says on the tin: bring your faulty object to a cafe or other venue, where you can have a coffee and a slice of cake and get someone to look at said object, for free, and show you how to fix it. Who knows, you might even get to know interesting people – real people, as opposed to the virtual kind – who have come for the same reason. 

The Netherlands now has 30-odd Repair Cafés, and it was only a matter of time before the phenomenon reached Belgium. We spoke with Jean-Bernard Rauzer who, along with Sophie Quinet, is in charge of the capital’s first Repair Café.

How did the Brussels chapter of Repair Café come about?

We opened the first Repair Café in Brussels in September after months of preparation. We decided to try the concept in Belgium after meeting up in Maastricht with Martine Postma, who devised the whole Repair Café idea.

What can I bring in for repairs? 

Firstly I want to insist on a crucial point. Our goal is not to repair anything for people who come to the Repair Café. Rather, our aim is to show people how to repair their faulty objects themselves, or how to get them repaired for next to nothing. Having said that, because of the growing number of visitors, we have to be as efficient and swift as possible, so sometimes we will perform a quick repair job when it’s quicker than to explain how to do it.

You have a team of specialists, then?

We have a pool of 60-odd volunteers, and we have about 25 of them at each session. When people come in, we direct them to one of five workshops: electrical goods, IT, textiles, woodwork or bicycles. We are constantly on the lookout for kind-hearted specialists who are prepared to give a few hours of their time.

What don’t you repair?

We typically don’t repair large electrical appliances such as fridges, washing machines or dishwashers. Nor do we repair cars and motorbikes.

How is your initiative funded?

Everyone involved in the project is a volunteer, so we have no wages to pay; furthermore, the places where we host the sessions do not charge us anything, not even for the electricity. We get a cut from the sales of drinks, and 100% of the profits from the sales of cakes, tarts and pies baked by volunteers. This allows us to have some sort of petty cash, which is handy for tools and the like. We recently bought a semi-professional sewing machine, for example. We also have kitties at each workshop; we ask satisfied customers to leave a little something, if they can afford it. 

The Electrabel logo appears on your website; how did they come on board?

One of our volunteers works at Electrabel and heard of its Power to Act campaign, through which it sponsors initiatives it deems worthy. We submitted our dossier – same as everyone else – and they chose us. We do not represent any political party or organisation, but we will welcome any support that allows us to develop our idea.

Has your project been met with unpleasant words from professional repairmen who see you as a threat?

Not at all; on the contrary, we have even received encouraging words from professionals. The thing is, we don’t tread on the toes of professionals. We don’t do the same thing. What we repair are, typically, objects which professional firms don’t repair, because of the costs of their quotes to start with, which deters people. So there is a market for both.

The next Repair Café will take place at Elzenhof cultural centre in Ixelles on Sunday, March 3.

For details of all forthcoming activities, of rules to adhere to and of how you could help, go to the Repair Café Brussels website.

And remember: if it’s broke, fix it.


Written by PM Doutreligne