Five lessons from 5 years of Hackney Fixers

When the Restart Project inspired us to hold our first Restart Party five years ago we thought it was a fun way to DO something practical to help the environment. 

5 years, 33 events and 881 devices later it is still that.  Indeed we are still having fun and we’ve prevented 16 tonnes of CO2 emissions according to the Restart Project’s Fixometer.

As I munched my celebratory cake at our most recent event I mused on what else we have learned over those years.  Here are five lessons I've taken from the last five years.

One. People really want to repair stuff.

When we opened the doors at Passing Clouds in 2013 for our first Restart Party we didn’t know if anyone would come, but come they did, bringing their broken toasters, slow laptops, poorly printers, malfunctioning mixers and dodgy vacuums. 

And still they come.  Some can’t afford to repair or replace the appliances they need for daily living.  Some are surprisingly attached to the familiar things they have been using for years.  Some want to learn more about how stuff works and develop new skills.  Others just don’t want to throw something away that “ought” to still work, and could be given another lease of life. 

Whatever their motivation those conversations as we work together about what their device means to them are some of the most interesting and revealing, and show us that people want and expect stuff to last a lot longer than it does and are prepared to spend time and effort seeking out solutions when things stop working.   

We don’t all buy in to the model of throw and replace.  We are not all helpless to do anything; we can do something.

Two: We need to keep repair skills going.

Spoiler alert: many of the items we see at our Restart Parties are pretty easy to fix.  Something minor is wrong, or the fuse needs to be replaced or some function is no longer working, but lack of knowledge or confidence is a big barrier to attempting repair.   Simple diagnostic and repair skills can go a long way, and hopefully the Restart Parties play their role in keeping these skills going.

The need for these skills was demonstrated last autumn when we held a series of workshops called Fixing Fridays which were quickly oversubscribed.  Covering fault finding, home appliances and computers and with a session specifically for women, we were thrilled at the response.

As Restarters we have opportunities to practice, develop and pass on our skills.  We learn from each other, and take each repair as a learning opportunity.  Transferring and building up these skills is another way we can help resist the throwaway culture and build a more resilient society.

Three. We can be part of a repair movement.

 

Hackney Fixers is a small repair project in just one London borough.  But we work closely with the Restart Project and last October we attended FixFest, the first international festival of repair aimed at bringing together the community repair movement across the world. 

 

Meeting Restarters from Italy, Scandinavia and Argentina; hearing from leaders of The Restart Project, Repair Café, iFixit and many other grassroots projects was inspiring and we realised that we can be part of a growing movement to change the status quo.

 

At that meeting the Open Repair Alliance was formed: an international coalition campaigning for more repairable and durable products, and for access to parts and tools for repair. 

 

Every person who comes to our events, every volunteer who gives their time and skills, every item we prevent from becoming waste helps to build a platform for change.

Four. We need a strong repair economy too.

 

Back in 2015 we collected recommendations about local repairers at one of our events.  We wanted to be able to signpost people to reliable commercial repairers between events or to complete the repairs we couldn’t. 

Since then I’ve been helping the Restart Project to develop their new Repair Directory launched last month which now covers 11 London boroughs from Havering to Barnet and from Camden to Enfield.

 

In the process I’ve noticed the decline of some traditional repair categories and the growth of others.  It is pretty much impossible now to find repairers for household items like toasters, irons and radios.  TV and vacuum repair shops are hanging on, but for how much longer?  Computer repairers are increasingly working with tablets and phones, while phone repair shops continue to proliferate.  

 

This pattern reflects both the commodification of appliances which have continued to become cheaper, and our increasing dependence on our mobile phones.  It makes me realise that Restart Parties complement the repair shops by helping to repair things that are not commercially viable to repair, we are not in competition.

 

With the the Repair Directory the Restart Project is aiming to support the repair economy and particularly innovative businesses, such as Lovefone and Bfix which are developing new customer-friendly standards of service and re-furbishing parts for re-use.

 

We need a strong repair economy to complement our work as Restarters; providing local jobs and services, training the next generation of repair technicians, refurbishing parts for reuse and, like Lovefone, supporting the campaign for more repairable products. 

Five. We need to fight for the right to repair.

At the moment Europe is voting on a series of eco-design “packages” of proposed regulations, an event that could set a very valuable precedent.  Eco-design measures can bring real progress for example making products more energy-efficient and designed to be easier to repair.

The upcoming votes are particularly important given that it could require, for the first time, that manufacturers of fridges, displays, lighting, washing machines and dishwashers sold in the EU provide spare parts for 7 years and access to repair information.

These measures would set a crucial precedent which could in the future be extended to other devices. And the chances are that Europe’s move could contribute to the adoption of similar regulation elsewhere in the world.  This vote also marks a special opportunity for the United Kingdom, as it will likely be the last chance it has to contribute to ecodesign regulation before leaving the EU as a result of Brexit.

 

At the moment the UK government is blocking these measures in the face of strong lobbying from industry.  Please sign the 38 degrees petition asking the UK government to give us the longer lasting products we want.  In the absence of this sort of regulation we will just see more and more non-repairable products on the market.

Thanks for reading and look forward to seeing you at one of our events soon.

James 

Hackney Fixers

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