business circular economy waste

Every town needs a remakery

The Edinburgh Remakery is a social enterprise that teaches repair. The shop sells refurbished computers and furniture, and hosts workshops where people can come along and learn how to repair their own things. There’s a big vision behind it: “we want to generate a repair revolution. This means changing the way people use and dispose of resources, encouraging manufacturers to build things to last and to be fixable, and making sure the facilities are in place to allow people to repair and reuse.”

The Remakery was founded by Sophie Unwin, after spending a year in Nepal. There she saw a culture of repair and stewardship that was absent in our own throwaway society – but it used to be there. Previous generations knew how to fix things. This generation just needs some re-skilling, access to the tools to do it, and some encouragement to give it a go. It’s a similar idea to the Restart Project, with the added benefits of a permanent centre, and proceeds from the shop help to fund the community engagement work.

These projects are important right now, because those repair skills are still out there in society, and they might not be for very long. Many repair businesses have gone already. Those that remain are often struggling. Since there is little demand for repair, there’s a shortage of younger people ready to step up when older repairers retire. I’ve seen this myself in Luton. When I moved here a few years ago, the High Town area had a tailor, a lawnmower repair shop and a TV repair shop. The first two have since retired and the shops have closed. The TV place was destroyed earlier this year when a car drove into it, and the owner can’t afford to fix it. The shop is boarded up, and there’s a mobile number on the door if you want your TV repaired.

This decline in repair facilities is repeated up and down the country, and it makes the throwaway culture self-reinforcing. Eventually we won’t be able repair things if we wanted to. There’s a window of opportunity for creating businesses like the Remakery, catching and passing on those repair skills before they’re gone.

Incidentally, it’s no accident that the Remakery has popped up in Scotland, as the country has an ambitious zero waste plan. It fits within a national plan to reduce waste, and has been able to access funding that wouldn’t be available elsewhere. But it is demonstrating a model, and if it succeeds in running without external funding (it’s gone from 50% to 80% self-funding over the last two years, so it’s well on its way) then there’s no reason why others couldn’t replicate it in other cities.

If anyone wants to bring it to Luton, we’ve got a couple of empty repair shops ready to go.

52 comments

  1. There are quite a few ‘how to mend this item’ videos on You tube. These no doubt appeal most to those people who use their mobiles for everything. A very different concept but a movement not to be ignored.

    1. I have a clock repair man that has been looking for someone to teach his trade to. No one is interested. He has priceless knowledge. He takes care of my grandfather clock When he goes I have no one to help and you sure would not want to throw your beautiful clock on the rubbish heap.

        1. Yes, I can imagine how recruiting an apprentice clock mender would be difficult. It takes years to learn, but isn’t particularly well paid and there’s less and less work as fewer people have mechanical clocks to maintain. It would be a very brave young person who embarked on that as a career.

          Repair hubs like this would be good places for a clock mender to be based though. If we do get to a point where every town has one, we’d all have access to a network of expertise and we’d be able to keep those old clocks ticking.

          1. There IS a career available in clock repair and servicing. The National Trust and country houses have a huge number and are currently paying people to maintain, but these are 70-80-90year olds and won’t be around much longer…

          2. Sure, the work is there, but in decreasing quantities. We’ll always need clock menders, but not as many as we used to. When those elder statesmen of the clock world were apprentices, every middle class household had a mechanical clock. Nowadays most of us get one from Argos. If it breaks, we get another one – or we order a new mechanism from Ebay and swap it in. Not many of us keep antique clocks, wonderful though they are. There are opportunities for young people, but I suspect it will be through family firms where they can do a long apprenticeship and then take on existing customers.

  2. This is very close to my heart: I really think this needs to happen as the next big step in becoming more environmentally friendly and sustainable. I would love to see more repair shops, and think they should definitely attract funding and subsidies. Will tweet this from @OutsidetheboxUW

  3. Its good to see things like this , I and my partner have long been amazed at the throwaway culture that is today, We grew up in a world where if something got broken you automatically fixed it or you knew someone that could do it for you, it didn’t occur to us to throw it and buy a new one , as things were then made to last and were worth fixing . If those days are coming back , all the better , it can only be for the good .

  4. Reblogged this on Rude Record and commented:
    Us RUDE Guys strongly agree with Sophie. And repair skills whilst appreciated by the minority are not embraced by the majority. Why repair when you can buy something new is what we hear most of the time. Oftentimes people have not thought out why repair is of value but when it is explained to them, a light usually goes on.

    We are having our first repair event in our local town on the 8th April, 2017. You can find out more on our Facebook open group @menditmelton

  5. I have always reused materials, repaired furniture, fixed electrical appliances and more. A greal example would be throwing an old washer in the back of our Toyota hat hback, removing the drain cover, pulling out a child’s sock, replacing the cover and using my ‘new’ washer for years to come.

    1. Oh I agree. I have always loved sewing. I have helped a few folks at work repair or redesign their favorite clothes. So satisfying.

  6. This is great and I love how the idea came to her after a trip to Nepal! It’s funny how the developed nations always preach to the developing how to recycle and repair when the latter already have it engrained in their lifestyles.

    1. Absolutely, being able to throw things away is a luxury that poorer countries don’t have. I was always very impressed by the repair skills I saw in Africa, especially since people didn’t have the full range of tools to work with.

  7. We need the whole concept of repairability. If it will help the Clifton location, I have a complete set of ‘Popular Mechanic’s’ published in 1956, 12 volumes total. I am not willing to give them up, but will consider loaning them to you. I still cannot believe some of the skills and designs explained in these books, and most of them have all but been forgotten. Maybe you could make a few copies to help with your teaching.

  8. The idea is good but the consumer model, throw away mentality, is promoted supported by our government and capitalist society. The opportunity will come when the inevitable economic crash comes. The end is near.

    1. Governments have been known to support repair as well. Sweden recently introduced tax breaks for repair. Japan has been supporting a repair culture since the early 90s. As I mentioned in the post, Scotland has a much more serious approach to waste than Britain’s central government, and the Remakery has some government funding. So it’s not inevitable, and we have some work to do lobbying the authorities to put this on the agenda.

  9. What a fantastic idea! It saddens me to see the throwaway culture in which we live. Would love to see this replicated on South Wales.

  10. Fabulous idea. The dumps are full of reusable stuff that need little or old repair & a lot of people out of work that I’m sure could use and/or repair stuff that could be used or sold but no one is allowed to “shop” in these places.

  11. As someone who works in design and manufacture I really hope this succeeds but don’t have great hope. We design things to be manufactured not repaired – and you the consumer are to blame! Personally I lovingly waste my own time doing componant level repairs (eg replacing a bearing in a fan) when it is not efficient to do so.

    Hopefully this is the beginning of something bigger – a revolution of consumers.

  12. Where there are people who can repair things it can often be expensive and instead we are encouraged to throw away the old and buy a new one. This drives repair people out of business and fails to recognise the environmental cost of throwing away and replacing. If a centre employs repair staff to pass on skills, train and support people and subsidises repairs then it’s win-win

  13. In the USA, California is throwing away nuclear power plants and building bird-killing wind “turbines” that need gas turbine backup for when the wind drops. A 10% drop in wind speed is a 27% drop in the wind’s power, because it goes up and down as the cube of the speed.

  14. I have a friend who says that I take “Windows” computers old enough that Microsoft no longer supports them, and “reprogram” them with a GNU/Linux system as if I were rescuing them from a religious cult.

  15. get rid of the buy and throw away culture..now a days goods get imported from China and cannot be repaired due their mass production of goods.
    when i ask someone to fix something like a clothing iron,,i get told it cannot be fixed.

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