Repairing all together and learning from others in a cocoon atmosphere. Once a month in Brussels, people can give a new life to broken items and learn how to repair them with enthusiastic skilled volunteers. Tools and Equipment are available for reparation as well as cakes and coffee.
- Holding organization: Repair Café Brussels
- Status: De Facto Association (ASBL in creation )
- Financing: Donations/Sells/ subsidy
- Public partners: Neighbourhood local house
- Private partners: Local associations/ Electrabel
- People involved in the project: 60 volunteers (rotation)
- Creation Date: May 2012
- Contact Persons: Jean-Bernard Rauzer/ Sophie Quinet
- Main project link: http://www.repaircafebrussels.be
Repairing all together here is the idea of the Repair Café. Many people have discarded items at home that are no longer useful but do not necessarily have the means to buy new ones. People with practical knowledge and know-how and passionate repairers are not always highlighted and valued in our society. The Repair Café brings them together for mutual experience learning and waste reduction active work.
The local context
Brussels is known for its second hand shops, markets but also community-based swapping systems. The context of the crisis has strenghtened the importance to reduce our global waste and make savings in our consumption habits. In this context, community repairing has come quite obvisously. One RepairCafé has opened in Ixelles, another one in Molenbeek in less than a year and other projects are on track in the Brussels Region.
The starting point
The Repair Café is an initiative born in 2008 in the Netherlands. It aims at weaving voluntary repairing, skills sharing and conviviality. Bernard, founder of the first Belgian Repair Café in Brussels discovered this project in the newspapers in early May 2012 wondering why it didn’t exist in Belgium. The same evening, after learning about the project online, he asked himself “Why should I not try to start the project in Brussels?”. Being not in an active association around recycling, but a regular citizen with a musical production background, he motivated a friend Sophie (cofounder) to get involve in the adventure.
1rst step (end of May): meeting Martine Postma -the Dutch founder- during a Repair Café in Maastricht. The exchange is fruitful with a perfect timing: the Repair Café Foundation (with Dutch Public Support) intended to expand at that time the project in the neighbourhood countries (Belgium and Germany). For anyone who wants to start this initiative, a detailed starting kit is made available upon request from Stichting Repair Café (in French, English, Dutch and German).
2nd Step: Preparing the launch of the first Brussels Repair Café.
- One-page Manifesto writing: why the project needs volunteers. Page sent to the personal address networks of the 2 Belgian co-founders. After 2 weeks, nearly 60 volunteers answered positively to the call and are being registered in the database.
- Building seeking: contact with a Belgian association working for waste salvage and valorisation and Do It Yourself techniques (La foire aux savoirs-faire); agreement to get their building for free once a month. (After 3 months/ move to a larger building offered by Elzenhof, the local flemish cultural house)
- Media contact: spread the initiative: good media coverage in the local radio/TV and press.
September 2012: opening of the first Brussels Repair Café: crowded Sunday.
How does it work today?
Financing: The Repair Café is free of charge and open to anyone. The functioning costs are really low (building available for free with electricity& heating offered through associations deals + personal liability insurance subscription)
To develop the project and buy technical specific tools:
- Drinks and cakes made by the volunteers sold during each Café;
- Money-box: free repairs but people can donate some money if satisfied by the collective work
- Payments in kinds: repairing kits, informatics components
- Public and private subsidy (in progress). One of the voluntary repairer was successful in getting a subsidy from his employer (Electrabel) to buy new tools.
Equipment: Voluntary Repairers bring their own tools and sometimes spare pieces. The equipment is enlarged through collective purchases for the Café.
Registration: Everyone who comes to the Café with broken items fills in a form indicating the known failures of the object. It enables the repairers to have a memory of the types of work done and eventually keep up the repairs at the following session.
Repairs: Everyone get involved in the fixing sessions, the idea is to share knowledge, learn new (old) techniques. Usually it’s about finding the origin of the breakdown: if the required spare piece is not available, it is possible to come back to finalize the fixing, repairers also share traditional repairers/ workshops in-town. However those repairers -especially in electronics- are gradualy disappearing. A collective choice has been made not to take the irreparable items back (lack of a storage room). Most of the time, if the spare piece is identified, people can try to get it from the producer. Between 80 and 120 repairs in a Repair Café afternoon.
Debriefing: At the end of each Repair Café: Debriefing meeting with all the 25 volunteers of the day to share ideas, problems and find solutions all together. The report is then sent to all the volunteers involved in the project (around 60).
Communication: The word-of-mouth is really powerful: at every session and when they fill in the form, people can write down their email address, a newsletter is being sent to every user with a link to the Repair café. High importance to stick to the original Dutch format: keep the network’s visibility and strengthen experiences exchange.
The RepairCafé embraces a very diverse crowd (all kinds of origins or social background):
- people who come mostly for economical reasons: people who want to save money and cannot repair or buy new items.
- people who come first for ideological reasons: people who feel concerned with the current excesses of the production system and want to buy less but better quality.
Voluntary repairers register for the next RepairCafé through a simple online survey where each needed post for the café is being listed (household electronic goods, couture, bikes). This flexible system allows a rotation in profiles and volunteers.
Added-value of the project and making resources available
- Valorisation of persons with forgotten know-how, whose technical and practical knowledge are not always highlighted in our society
- Waste and Planned obsolescence Struggle
- New competences learning and empowerment through self/accompanied repairing
- Conviviality, help and empathy building
Key success factors:
- Crucial importance of the media coverage to get the project known.
- Flexibility of the project: the “de facto association” form that was adopted allows a rotation of the volunteers, people can easily join the project if they pursue the same goal and accept the Manifesto of the project.
- In smaller towns, it is sometimes difficult to find the right voluntary repairers for the repairs tasks to perform (electronics...)
1/Immediate: Support for the Structuration of a Repair Cafés Network in Brussels & Wallonia:
- Association setup
- Public subsidy seeking
- Information share with the new Flanders Network (Repair Café Vlanderen)
- Volunteers Training?
2/Long term: consolidation of the existing project’s outlets:
- Storage room for broken items
- New downstream sector linked to existing second-hand shops to create repairers jobs.
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