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The Joy of the Repair Café

Volunteers are central to the success of Repair Cafés across Sussex, so we sent Nicola Coughlin along to Lindfield Repair Cafe to talk to volunteers about their valuable contribution

Sometimes when we consider retirement, we worry about what we will do to keep ourselves busy, to maintain a sense of purpose and simply to have a reason to get up in the morning.

The ‘Repair Café’, started by Martine Postma in Amsterdam, celebrates its 15th anniversary this year and there are now more than 20 in Sussex alone. I spoke to volunteers at Lindfield Repair Café, started by local resident Trevor Carpenter, to find out what they value most about volunteering there and how it contributes to their personal well-being.

“I am retired but still very active so volunteering for the Repair Café is my way of giving something back to the community and at the same time using the skills I have developed over the years.” said Merv who has volunteered since the repair café first opened in November 2021. “My make-do-and-mend attitude was passed down to me by my parents from a very early age, so it is natural for me to try and repair something which is broken even if it's quite a challenge sometimes”.

Pauline, who had only recently moved to Lindfield when the Repair Café started, explained that it gave her the chance to meet local people and help reduce items sent to landfill, which she is keen to encourage. In a very busy environment with so many visitors she said, "I enjoy bringing order out of potential chaos." As well as helping at the café, Pauline has taken on the busy role of Volunteer Coordinator which involves recruiting new volunteers and keeping existing ones informed.

“I am keen to use my skills at mending and encourage people not to throw things away.

I love the Saturdays, meeting other volunteers, meeting new people, meeting like-minded people. It’s great to give people such pleasure when their items are repaired. It also gives me a feeling of self-worth.” said Fran, who also volunteers at Chailey and Forest Row repair cafés.

Not a repairer? Don’t worry, there’s a place for everyone! At Lindfield Repair Cafe around 60 regular volunteers carry out a surprisingly wide range of roles. As well as repairing, these include helping to ensure the morning runs smoothly by checking visitors in with their items for repair, allocating repairs to appropriate repairers, collecting visitors from the waiting area and introducing them to repairers, checking visitors out as they leave and making and serving refreshments which visitors enjoy while waiting their turn. Every event over the past year has welcomed well over 70 visitors who have helped make this a wonderful community event.

A wide range of repairs are carried out at repair cafés including sewing – mending garments or soft furnishings (and often teddy bears!), electrical/electronics, woodwork, leather, ceramics, jewellery, bike and general repairs, as well as tool sharpening.

So, if you would like a new part-time role but feel unsure where you may fit in or what you will enjoy, volunteering at a repair café is a great way to ‘test the water’. You will almost certainly find you have skills that have been hidden away for a long time while you have been busy with other roles in life, or discover skills that you never even realised you have. Polly at Lindfield was asked if she could draw. "No" she said firmly. She went on to become known as the local repair café’s ‘Artist in Residence’ and every month draws most of the items brought in for repair on a white board in the foyer. This has become this café’s iconic symbol and is often used at local talks.

“It’s like spending four hours surrounded by a cloud of philanthropic kindness.” Polly said with a smile about her Saturday mornings at Lindfield Repair Café.


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