02 Feb 2024

So, what is a Repair Café?

So, what is a Repair Café?
Our local Repair Café is based in Tunbridge Wells, and is a once-a-month volunteer-led service where anyone can bring broken household items and get them fixed for free!
The café aims to reduce the number of usable items in landfill and lower the unnecessary manufacture of new items by prolonging the life of existing ones.
We sat down with its co-creator Chris, who shares his top tips for making the most of your treasured textiles.
What made you start the repair workshops?
The Repair Café movement started in Holland 15 years ago and has spread worldwide since. I heard about it in November 2019 and immediately set about organising one in Tunbridge Wells. We hosted our first repair café in March 2020, took a break due to Covid, and have now hosted 22 more repair cafés since September 2021!
Have you seen a rise in the number of people using your service to repair rather than buy new?
Textile recycling is widely available now, but we are pretty sure that more people could use our service rather than passing their clothes on and purchasing new ones. Textiles only represent 12% of the nearly 2000 items we have seen.
What is the most popular object people bring to be repaired, and is there a common cause for needing repair?
Our most popular station is electrical; the most common items are kettles, toasters, lamps and coffee makers. We manage to repair or give advice in 70% of cases. With textiles and clothing, the statistics are better - the textiles team repair nearly 95% of what they see! Popular textile items are teddy bears, coats, skirts, jackets and trousers, along with a number of handbags.
Do you have any creative tips for repairing damaged textiles?
Oh, that is a tricky one. It depends on how invisible you want the repair to be! We tend to do more visible mending at the repair café due to time restraints. We use a lot of patches and under patches for speed and durability. One of our volunteers enjoys visible darning repairs, but it's a detailed process and not always possible at our repair cafés. However, they can give beautiful and eye-catching results if time allows.
Do you have a favourite repair project that comes to mind?
In the very first repair café, a lady brought along her 94-year-old teddy, and the team managed to stitch and repair it so it could be used again and enjoyed for years to come. There have been numerous other repairs where people have seen sentimental items repaired - one lady brought in a music box which had belonged to her late mother but no longer worked. We managed to fix that so she could sit and listen and be reminded of her mother once again. A tear or two was shed there!

What are your top tips for looking after interior items/textiles for a longer life?

It can all be summarised under care and attention. Firstly keep them clean and stored well, hang them if you can, and don't screw them up in drawers. It’s important to keep them protected from moths, we see a lot of moth holes in clothes which can be easily prevented.

Initiatives like the Repair Café are so important to encourage people to repair before buying new. If you're local to Tunbridge Wells, check them out! Find their details below:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TunbridgeWellsRepairCafe/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tunbridgewellsrepaircafe/

Website: https://tunbridgewellsrepaircafe.co.uk/

Email: twellsrepaircafe@gmail.com