New World Library, 2020
Reviewed by Piers Warren
Before the throwaway culture of the last few decades engulfed us, it was automatic that if something broke or didn’t work as well as it did when new, we would look to repair it, taking it to specialists when we didn’t have the knowledge ourselves. Then along came plastics, computer chips and cheap manufacturing techniques and it was suddenly easier (and encouraged by the makers) to throw the item away and buy a new one. This would be the case for anything from a table lamp to a computer to a washing machine. Along the way repair skills were lost.
As this book describes, this all started changing as recently as 2009 when Martine Postma set up a repair café in Amsterdam where people would bring along broken items to be fixed by skilled volunteers. It was a huge success, more were established, and in 2011 she created the Repair Café Foundation to help and encourage others to set up cafés in their own towns around the world. Now there are over 1,500 worldwide, 139 of which are in the UK, and more are being set up every year. It really is a Repair Revolution as the book title suggests.
The growing popularity of television programmes like The Repair Shop, broadcast on prime time BBC1 in the UK, has proved that the public love to see cherished items repaired and restored by sympathetic and skilled specialists.
This timely book chronicles this recent rise in repair cafés and the philosophy and wisdom of repairing. It is not intended as a fixit guide itself, but there is one chapter which outlines the basic procedures for repairing a variety of common gadgets such as table lamps and vacuum cleaners. Whilst exploring the history of the repair experience, including the growth in the Right to Repair movement, the book is littered with many heart-warming stories, both from the volunteer fixers and the repair recipients. It also focuses on the communities involved and the fun to be had on the repair journey.
Although it is an American publication with many of the stories and examples based in the USA, it also includes numerous anecdotes and references from around the world including the UK. The authors, John Wackman and Elizabeth Knight, both have experience in setting up repair cafés themselves and are clearly very enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the growing repair culture. They discuss why to bother repairing in the first place, what kind of people volunteer, how to involve children, what sort of items are brought in to be fixed, and how to set up a repair café in your own town.
I love (trying to) repair things myself and I found the book to be hugely inspiring and encouraging. I have the ‘Daddy Fixed It’ t-shirt from my daughter and get a great sense of satisfaction from repairing something myself, despite not having any very specific skills. Although I have been interested in the idea of repair cafés for some time, there are none in my county and so I have never visited one. But I have been encouraged enough by this book to investigate setting up the first repair café in my county myself. This book, along with guidance from the Repair Café Foundation (https://repaircafe.org) will be indispensable when I do.