Repair Cafe

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by Martin Charter:

"Repair Cafés have emerged as citizen-driven initiatives to enable the fixing (or repair) of products at a community level. Repair Cafés are part of broader movement of ‘Makers, Modifiers and Fixers’ where individuals and groups of individuals that are ‘making, modifying and fixing’ products are coming together in physical places and spaces that include Hackerspaces, Makerspaces, Fab Labs and Tech Shops." (



“Conceived of as a way to help people reduce waste, the Repair Cafe concept has taken off since its debut two and a half years ago. The Repair Cafe Foundation has raised about $525,000 through a grant from the Dutch government, support from foundations and small donations, all of which pay for staffing, marketing and even a Repair Cafe bus.

Thirty groups have started Repair Cafes across the Netherlands, where neighbors pool their skills and labor for a few hours a month to mend holey clothing and revivify old coffee makers, broken lamps, vacuum cleaners and toasters, as well as at least one electric organ, a washing machine and an orange juice press.

“In Europe, we throw out so many things,” said Martine Postma, a former journalist who came up with the concept after the birth of her second child led her to think more about the environment. “It’s a shame, because the things we throw away are usually not that broken. There are more and more people in the world, and we can’t keep handling things the way we do.

“I had the feeling I wanted to do something, not just write about it,” she said. But she was troubled by the question: “How do you try to do this as a normal person in your daily life?”

Inspired by a design exhibit about the creative, cultural and economic benefits of repairing and recycling, she decided that helping people fix things was a practical way to prevent unnecessary waste.

“Sustainability discussions are often about ideals, about what could be,” Ms. Postma said. “After a certain number of workshops on how to grow your own mushrooms, people get tired. This is very hands on, very concrete. It’s about doing something together, in the here and now.” While the Netherlands puts less than 3 percent of its municipal waste into landfills, there is still room for improvement, according to Joop Atsma, the state secretary for infrastructure and the environment. “ (


"Repair Cafés are free meeting places and they’re all about repairing things (together). In the place where a Repair Café is located, you’ll find tools and materials to help you make any repairs you need. On clothes, furniture, electrical appliances, bicycles, crockery, appliances, toys, et cetera. You will also find repair specialists such as electricians, seamstresses, carpenters and bicycle mechanics.

Visitors bring their broken items from home. Together with the specialists they start making their repairs in the Repair Café. It’s an ongoing learning process. If you have nothing to repair, you can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee. Or you can lend a hand with someone else’s repair job. You can also get inspired at the reading table – by leafing through books on repairs and DIY.

The Repair Café was initiated by Martine Postma. Since 2007, she has been striving for sustainability on local level in many ways." (


'Repair Café (RC) is a very successful start-up that is now running throughout the Netherlands. RC’s core business is organizing Cafés where people can bring their broken devices and (non-professional) repair specialist help them to repair it. The main goals are to repair and re-use things that are still usable, cooperate in new communities, and learn together with specialists that live in the neighborhood. In Amsterdam there are twelve Repair Cafés, and the organization supports local groups to start their own RC. There are now 120 local initiatives organizing their own Repair Café."



Martin Charter:

"The Repair Café Foundation (now Repair Cafe International Foundation (RCIF)), was founded by an ex-journalist Martine Postma in the Netherlands in 2011 to enable people to come together to provide a free service to their community to help repair and therefore, to extend the life of products that would otherwise end up as waste. RCIF has 1,562 Repair Cafés in 35 countries registered on their website (Repair Cafe International, 2018); however, there are indications that there are also a significant number of other Repair Cafés and other community repair workshops that are not on the RCI website.

A second worldwide survey of Repair Cafes was completed in 2016 by CfSD at UCA with RCIF (Charter & Keiller, 2016b) produced a range of other interesting findings based on 317 respondents:

  • Start-up phase: 72% of Repair Cafés had operated for two years or less compared with 95% in the 2014 survey.
  • Citizen-driven: 46% of Repair Cafés were founded by an informal group of motivated individuals and 44% by a single motivated individual.
  • High repair rates: 63% of products brought to Repair Cafés sessions were repaired."



Why a Repair Café?

We throw away vast amounts of stuff in Europe. Even things with almost nothing wrong, and which could get a new lease on life after a simple repair. The trouble is, lots of people have forgotten that they can repair things themselves or they no longer know how. Knowing how to make repairs is a skill quickly lost. Society doesn’t always show much appreciation for the people who still have this practical knowledge, and against their will they are often left standing on the sidelines. Their experience is never used, or hardly ever. The Repair Café is changing all that! People who might otherwise be sidelined are getting involved again. Valuable practical knowledge is getting passed on. Things are being used for longer and don’t have to be thrown away. This reduces the volume of raw materials and energy needed to make new products. It cuts CO2 emissions, for example, because manufacturing new products and recycling old ones causes CO2 to be released.

The Repair Café teaches people to see their possessions in a new light. And, once again, to appreciate their value. The Repair Café helps change people’s mindset. This is essential to kindle people’s enthusiasm for a sustainable society.

But most of all, the Repair Café just wants to show how much fun repairing things can be, and how easy it often is. Why don’t you give it a go?" (

Not competing with professional repair specialists

The Repair Café Foundation sometimes gets asked whether access to free repair get-togethers is competing with professional repair specialists. The answer is; quite the opposite. Organisers want to use Repair Cafés across the whole country to focus attention on the possibility of getting things repaired. Visitors are frequently advised to go to the few professionals still around.

Furthermore, people who visit Repair Cafés are not usually customers of repair specialists. They say that they normally throw away broken items because paying to have them repaired is, in general, too expensive. At the Repair Café they learn that you don’t have to throw things away; there are alternatives." (


'Martine Postma, who regularly reported on waste disposal, recalled walking down the street on garbage-collection day and noticing what people were throwing out.

“It struck me there were many things there that could be repaired,” Postma said.

Today, Postma, 42, describes herself as a former journalist. She left the profession to become more personally active in environmental sustainability.

“I was a journalist, but I wanted to do more,” Postma said. “I really wanted to contribute something and to take sides. As a journalist, you always have to be objective. You can’t really promote something.”

Her thoughts kept returning to those salvageable items she’d seen in the trash.

“I thought it would be easy [to reduce waste] if you could repair those things,” she said. “[To make] repairing a real alternative to throwing away and buying something new, you have to make repairing easy and attractive and accessible.”

Her solution was the creation of a neighborhood Repair Café.

“It should be something that is fun to do,” Postma said. “It shouldn’t be a workplace or a shop where you drop things off and pick them up later, but I thought to make it a social event where you can meet your neighbors and you can make new contacts with people from your own neighborhood. That makes it fun.”

Postma said finding repair experts wasn’t difficult, and she was pleasantly surprised to find there are still people who know how to fix almost anything.

“The funny thing is, for those people, it’s their biggest hobby,” she said. “They like doing it and they like sharing the knowledge and passing it on and helping other people.”

The first organized meeting in 2009 was “an unexpected success,” Postma said.

She wasn’t sure if anyone would come. Instead, area residents showed up early, bringing everything from electrical appliances to clothes to furniture to musical instruments.

“People were very enthusiastic,” Postma said. “Many people came to me and said, ‘Oh, this is really a solution for me. I don’t like to throw out things, but you have to because you cannot get them repaired anywhere. Is this going to be here every week now? Or every month?’ So, I thought, ‘Well, apparently, this strikes a note.’”

In response, Postma founded the Repair Café Foundation in March 2010. Its mission is to spread the concept of Repair Cafés and help establish new locations. The foundation provides information, guidelines, posters, fliers, sample news releases and a 26-page instruction booklet.

“Now all kinds of groups all over The Netherlands want to do this for themselves,” she said.

As of June 1, 42 groups in the Netherlands have established Repair Cafés, from locations in big-city Amsterdam to hamlets of 600 villagers, Postma said.

Funding comes from private individuals, the government and private foundations, Postma said, with the greatest support coming from the DOEN Foundation, a Dutch organization that promotes and supports social cohesion.

“They want to bring people together who live in the same neighborhood and to strengthen the community,” she said. “That’s their goal. And that’s what the Repair Café also does.”

Finding electricians is an important first step in establishing a Repair Café, Postma said.

“You need at least three or four electricians — people who know how electrical current works and who can handle electrical appliances,” she said.

A second consideration is finding a place to meet and a third consideration is publicity.

“There, you get help from us, from the foundation, because we have a press release prepared where you just have to fill in the name of your group and your location,” Postma said. “So it’s not really that difficult for people to get started with our help.”

The cost of tools is seldom problematic because people with repair skills often have their own tools.

“If you have the electrician and you have a carpenter and someone who’s a good bicycle mechanic and you have a seamstress, they are usually willing to bring their own machines and tools,” Postma said. “If you organize it for a second or third time, then you might want to buy some tools, but they are not essential to get started. You can very well use or ask the repair men and women to bring their own.”

Unbeknownst to her, Postma’s crusade in The Netherlands had a counterpart in the United States.

In 2009, the same year she organized her first Repair Café meeting, a group of environmentally minded individuals in Brooklyn, met to discuss ways they could have a positive impact on their neighborhood environment. They established what they called a Fixers Collective, which, three years later, has become a model for Fixers Collectives across the nation." (

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