Repair Cafe: a second life for your broken items

Have you ever had an item that you didn’t want to throw but just couldn’t repair? Volunteers at Cardiff’s Repair Cafe will try to fix almost anything: we went out to meet them.

Volunteers in Cardiff’s Repair Cafe tried to fix an old projector

Zoe and her daughter walk to the table holding their battered silver toaster as though it was a small child or a lost kitten. It hasn’t worked for several months, but they don’t want to buy another one.

Volunteer Ian pulls a screwdriver from his tool kit and sets to work, pulling out screws and shining the light of his small torch deep into its innards. He’s a university student who’s been volunteering at the cafe for a year and he’s no stranger to the insides of most toasters.

Every first Saturday of each month, Repair Cafe Wales runs the Cardiff one in Sherman Theatre at Cathays to help local people repair their damaged items for free.

Zoe went to Cardiff’s Repair Cafe to fix her broken toaster

“It’s really great that these guys are around and give things a bit of extra way of life,” said Zoe, the 45 year-old Cardiff citizen. “The manufacturers don’t want you to get them repaired. They just want you to buy another one. I don’t want all these things going to landfill when it could be easily fixed.”

Zoe doesn’t like to throw things away and she believed her toaster could be quickly fixed, although she didn’t know how to do it by herself. “We do it more for larger things like the washing machine, but for these (smaller) things, it’s such a throw away culture.”

According to Recycle Now, Britons consume around 170 million of electrical items every year, with each person buying three electrical devices on average. Electrical items mainly consist of plastics and rare materials such as steel, copper or even gold and the steel contained by one iron can make 13 steel cans.

Gareth is the organiser of two Repair Cafes in Cardiff. The 34 year-old English teacher volunteered to run the Repair Cafes in Sherman Theatre at Cathays and in Oasis Cardiff at Splott from September 2019.

Gareth started organising Cardiff’s Repair Cafes in September 2019

The Repair Cafe in Cardiff started in 2017, and since then similar cafes have been springing up around Wales in places like Pontypridd, Newport and Swansea. All of them repair items like clothing, household electrics, woodwork, children’s toys and bikes.

The repairing is for free. “We don’t expect people to pay for things. They just donate if they want to.” Gareth said. The main cost of a Repair Cafe is the basics involved in the repairing, such as needles, threads and solders, which are normally provided by the cafes and volunteers.

There are 40 to 50 volunteers on Gareth’ books for two Repair Cafes. He contacts everybody each month and normally 5 to 10 people will turn up on any given Saturday. The most difficult thing is to match volunteers and people who wanted things fixed.

Volunteer in Cardiff’s Repair Cafe tried to fix a bag and clothes

“You never know who’s going to come through the door with repairs,” said Gareth. “And what they are going to want repaired, and you’ll never quite sure who’s going to turn up as volunteers.”

One regular at the events is Ian, an electrical engineering student at Cardiff University, from the Philippines. The 20-year-old likes opening up things and repairing them, so he quickly joined as a volunteer when his friend told him about the Repair Cafes last year.

It usually takes Ian an hour or two to repair one item, and he loves the idea of repairing things very much. He believes it helps people save a lot of money so that they don’t have to buy new stuff.

Ian joined Cardiff’s Repair Cafe as a volunteer in 2019

Ian said: “It’s hard for recycling electronics, because you have to disorder everything. You have to get it off board, take things apart and unscrew things… Recycling things is good, but there are better ways to save the planet.”

Just 50 minutes later and Zoe’s toaster is working once again, but not every item that comes through the door can be fixed. “Even if we are unable to fix it, we usually are able to provide useful advice on what the next steps are to get it fixed,” says Gareth.

Find out more information on Repair Cafe Wales on the website: