Behaviour change can be a daunting prospect, unless it happens in easy steps, with tangible and immediate benefits. Getting together to fix stuff is an instantly appealing answer to reducing waste, but Horsham District resident Carrie Cort has discovered that setting up a regular repair café has brought dividends and benefits to the community that neither she nor any of those involved could have imagined.
From fixing laptops to helping the planet
Carrie set up Sussex Green Living in 2012 and the same year attended a West Sussex County Council waste prevention advisor (WPA) training where she met and became good friends with another voluntary WPA Jill Shuker. In 2016 they organised their first textile up-cycling workshop as part of a Horsham festival, hoping it would encourage teenagers to learn how to sew and adapt clothes as a sustainable antidote to fast fashion. ‘It attracted children of all ages’, says Carrie. This workshop and later textile upcycling workshops resulted in a group of creative textile volunteers.
In the summer of 2017, Jill suggested setting up a repair café and within four months the Horsham Repair Café was launched, thanks to the support of the Horsham Quakers. New volunteers with additional skills emerged, expanding the offer to include computer and mobile phone, IT, electrical, and household goods repair. Now the Horsham Repair Café is a regular and popular fixture, taking place on the first Saturday of every month, from 10am until 1pm. Its success has necessitated spreading into two locations, the Quaker Meeting House and the Unitarian Church Hall four doors away.
At the February 2020 meeting, well over 150 people attended, bringing everything from trousers that needed hemming to broken lamps and laptops. In addition to repairs, the café offers personal hygiene and cleaning product refills (a service the Horsham Quakers have run for many years), dry, loose and organic food refills, energy advice and green energy switching, plus tea and coffee and homemade cake. Says Jill: ‘Some people come to do their refills but then learn about all the other services and take advantage whilst enjoying a cup of coffee and a chat.’
The unexpected benefits are many and varied, says Carrie: ‘We had a young man who’d been unemployed due to health issues. He was training as an electrician and ended up being supported by the retired electricians. It has just been magical how people who don’t know each other from Adam just came together and supported what we were doing – and supported each other – from the moment they walked in the door. It’s teaching skills, not just repairing things. It becomes like a village hall within a big town.’
Interest in this approach has spread rapidly, and there are now at least 12 other repair cafes in the Sussex area. With rising anxiety about climate change, the desire to adopt more sustainable habits has never been stronger, though there is widespread confusion about what that might mean. So, in December 2019, Sussex Green Living and the Horsham Quakers launched the Horsham Climate Café, which takes place just after the Repair Café (from 2pm until 4pm) in the Quaker Meeting House. ‘The idea is to talk about problems and solutions,’ says Carrie. ‘Anyone can come along.’ She is particularly keen that young people get involved, and a Youth Forum is being organised. Every month there will be an inspiring talk, by climate activists and campaigners on issues from rewilding to campaigns to improve local council plans for housing or sustainable transport.
As Carrie and her repair community have found, the sharing of resources, not just within the Horsham area, but across the South East Climate Alliance, enriches the potential for everyone to make a difference.
Article by Veronica Simpson
Interested in setting up your own repair café? Go to www.repaircafe.org and go to see your nearest repair café in action.
Horsham Repair Café and Sussex Green Living will be at the Kinder Living Show on 7- 8th March. County Hall North (Parkside), Horsham, RH12 1XH https://www.kinderliving.co.uk/
The Horsham Climate Café in March will take place at the Quaker Meeting House 2-4pm