What is a Repair Café? Te Puke joins the waste-reducing movement with a team of handy volunteers
A Bay of Plenty town joins a global movement, repairing, fixing and mending to reduce waste and forge connections.
Words: Cari Johnson
In an age when a tap on a phone can procure a new shirt, stitching a broken seam may seem a bit passé. Not for Vanessa Hudson, coordinator of the first Repair Café in the Bay of Plenty.
“It’s wasteful to throw away a perfectly usable item that can be fixed,” she says.
Te Puke’s Repair Café may call itself a café, but it is actually more of a social service. Instead of providing flat whites and espressos (although coffee is available), volunteers serve up advice on mending broken items. Repair experts will have a go at any household item – from smartphones to cherished antiques – so long as it can be brought to the café.
“The Repair Café philosophy is for people to spend time with the expert repairer so they can learn how to fix the items themselves,” says Vanessa. In other words, teach someone to sew on a button, and they’ll end up sorted.
The world was on the brink of condemning single-use bags and coffee cups when the first Repair Café, the brainchild of Dutch journalist Martine Postma, was established in 2009. Today, more than 1500 groups worldwide gather regularly to fix, stitch and mend items, all following the same “house rules” created by the not-for-profit Repair Café Foundation.
They may share the same values, but each Repair Café has a distinct fingerprint. Not all serve coffee (as does the Te Puke café), and repair services vary depending on the expertise of volunteers. Some locations may look like a town hall, others a library or a church. In Te Puke, it’s something in between. Every month, on a Saturday from late summer through to the following spring, the event is hosted in the foyer/café area of The Orchard Church.
Zip, clip, bang; a small transformation and the religious space is another busy Repair Café. Vanessa flits between various stations, helping fuel the room with conversation, caffeine and repair advice. One volunteer kneels down to help a girl glue a lopped-off head back onto a My Little Pony pastel body. Another gives an old bicycle a long-overdue tune-up.
“It’s nice to know that, environmentally, we’re making a difference. We’re teaching our throw-away society that there might not be much wrong with broken items,” says Vanessa.
Te Puke joined the international movement after it was proposed at The Orchard in 2018. Vanessa and other DIY-savvy members were keen to give it a go. Now equipped with local experts in electrical, sewing, IT, woodworking and general repair, Vanessa hopes more locals will walk away with talents they didn’t have before.
“It’s about bringing back some of the skills that are getting lost. Hopefully, people leave knowing how to change a lawn-mower sparkplug or sharpen a knife.”
Vanessa says most people want to prevent stuff from going to the landfill but don’t know how to repair broken items. “Many practical life skills aren’t being taught. Parents are busier, so they aren’t showing their kids how to repair things.”
There’s an energy in the air as locals, young and old, enter The Orchard’s foyer curiously. A mother leaves with a set of gifted thermal curtains, freshly cut and tailored to fit her child’s bedroom window. A volunteer repairer helps a man glue a leg back on his heirloom chair. Visitors without broken items hunker over their coffees watching connections forged over stitches, nails and wires.
“Our Repair Café is a community service. People get to know us, and we get to know them. Community connection is always a great thing,” says Vanessa.
“It’s wonderful to see that you’re helping people; that’s what a Repair Café is at day’s end.” facebook.com/RepairCafeTePuke
HOW TO START A REPAIR CAFÉ
Repair Cafés have been cropping up around New Zealand since 2016, with past events in Ōtaki, Whanganui, Katikati, Cromwell and Auckland. The Repair Café Foundation provides a step-by-step guide (for a small fee) to help groups get started with finding a space, recruiting experts and stocking up on necessary tools.
Once under the Repair Café umbrella, local chapters have plenty of freedom as long as they stick to the basic house rules: Keep repair services free, teach the technical skills to visitors, and enjoy connecting with the community. repaircafe.org