Frequently asked questions (and answers!)
What can I bring to a Repair Cafe session?
You can basically bring anything you can carry that will not make a massive mess in the venue. Here are some suggestions:
- A bicycle
- Some torn clothing
- A mechanical or electronic device, or a small electrical appliance – in some cases, we may be limited to fixing only battery-operated items, although we may be able to assess whether an electrical item is working (i.e. test whether it has a current)
- Something that needs glueing
- Broken furniture, kitchen items or tools
Whatever it is, it might not even be broken – just dirty, and you don’t know how to clean it without damaging it – or you can’t work out how to use it without the manual. With luck, someone will be able to help.
Generally, you should limit what you bring to 1 item per person, so that others have a chance to get their stuff looked at. Also note that we may not be able to complete complex fixes, which are generally those that either take more than a half hour to complete or which require parts or tools that are not available on site. If you know your item needs a part, bring that along.
What happens at a Repair Cafe session?
On arrival you’ll be asked to complete a Registration Form. The house rules are printed on the reverse and it’s important that you read and understand them and then sign the disclaimer before seeing a repairer. We ask that everyone accepts that all repairs are undertaken at their own risk. The Repair Cafe reserves the right to refuse any item if it is deemed to be in a dangerous condition and also cannot take responsibility for any item once it has left the premises.
After registration, you’re matched up with one of our volunteer repairers who will examine the item, diagnose the problem and offer advice before proceeding with the repair. In the case of an item being damaged or broken beyond repair, the repairer will discuss the options which may, if required, include guidance on its safe disposal. You can work with our volunteer fixers to do the repairs yourself (with their guidance) or have them tackle the job directly and see how it’s done. The exchange of a good story with your repairer is always welcome!! With luck, you’ll walk away with a once-again useful item, some knowledge of how to repair other things and greater confidence to do it.
Our repair cafe sessions may get busy and, after the first half hour or so, you may have to wait a bit. You can have a coffee and a look around – it’s pretty interesting seeing other people’s items being fixed. We try and keep waiting times to a minimum but the coffee aspect also provides the opportunity to sit and chat and meet others in your community.
We generally stop registering new repairs from 4.30 so that we can wind up by 5pm and pack up.
When and where do Repair Cafe sessions happen?
At the moment we plan to run our Repair Cafe on the second Sunday of every month except January, from 2-5pm, at the Port Phillip EcoCentre.
Do I need to book in advance?
We don’t take bookings in advance but we do invite you to contact us if you’re planning on bringing something that may require materials or parts. Otherwise, you can come along and get the item assessed and then return later or to a future repair cafe event after purchasing or sourcing the fixings you’ll need. The best way to contact us is through our Contact page.
What do I pay for this service?
Repair Café doesn’t charge for repairs. It’s offered in the spirit of the gift economy where we hope to share what we know and can do with our community. If the purchase of repair parts or materials is required, and they are available, you may be asked to pay for them.
Of course, donations to help cover other expenses, like operating costs and miscellaneous supplies, are always appreciated. We usually have a donation jar at each repair cafe event that you can pop in a gold coin or something of the folding kind!
You’re welcome to bring along some baked goods or nibbles to share. Skills and talents are also invited. Oh, if you can tell a grand story while your repair is underway, that too would be gratefully received!!
How do I start a Repair Cafe in my community?
First check to see if there’s a repair cafe or fixit initiative in your area already. You can check the map hosted by the International Repair Foundation for registered repair cafes around the world. We keep a map for Victoria where we try to keep track of existing, proposed and potential repair cafes in our State. You can also check with your local community centre or local government offices to see if they are aware of any fix-it or repair intiatives in your area.
If you’re interested in starting a repair cafe, we recommend getting hold of the starter kit from the International Repair Foundation and registering on their map (joining the network of 1200+ repair cafes across 30+ countries!). Then set about getting volunteer fixers, a venue to hold the first session, a start date and event to launch, and then various avenues to promote it. Lessons learned include:
- Stand on the shoulders of those who’ve travelled the road already – the international repair foundation and the many repair cafes up and running already. Toronto and Pasadena are good ones to check out.
- Start in the new year when folk are looking at making resolutions to get involved or share their skills and time. Or look at launching when there’s momentum created around sustainability or reducing waste following an event or program (in Australia, the ABC’s “War On Waste” program has been inspiring!).
- Start with what you have – if you have a couple of people who can sew or do bike repairs, start there. You can grow your group of fixers from there, drawing on your local community through Facebook and other avenues.
- Don’t limit your communications to Facebook. Use other avenues to reach out to potential helpers and fixers, and to the wider community. Look at promoting your initial information session and your launch through additional online or social media, your local radio or newspaper, your local council or community centre, or a local tech or university institution or school.
- Gather a few others at the start who will help you make it happen so you’re not a lone traveller. Talk to your local council or state government – we all share an interest in reducing what goes into landfill.
- Just do it. Don’t get paralysed by the what-abouts and but-ifs.
Okay – let’s address one common what-about: What about insurance? After questions around how to get fixers along, this seems to be the next most common question asked when people are looking to set up a repair cafe. The following points are worth noting (mindful that this is not intended to constitute legal advice and you’ll need to satisfy yourselves about what measures you adopt to address safety, risk and liability):
- It’s generally a good idea to have some form of insurance, and the International Repair Foundation recommends that repair cafes have public liability insurance (which can come from the host organisation or venue).
- You can supplement this by addressing safety and having waivers through, e.g. safety briefings and House Rules. (See the templates and information set out in the Restart Project kit and the Mending Workshop manual, as well as those provided if you sign up for the starter kit from the International Repair Foundation.)
- Additional insurance might be accessed or purchased, e.g. through an auspicing or auxiliary organisation (like a Mens Shed Association). You might also find that there is some legislative protection for volunteers attached to community organisations or incorporated associations.
- Interestingly, most repair cafes around the world don’t have insurance. The last (2016) international survey of repair cafes found that only 39% of them had public liability insurance, suggesting that “this may partly explain why it is seen by most as not being a barrier to success.”
If you want to find out more about starting up a repair cafe in your community, check out:
- the International Repair Cafe Foundation
- repair cafe global surveys and related reports at the Centre for Sustainability & Design
- Mending Workshop Guide, written by Oberon Carter (Permaculture Tasmania & Zero Waste Tasmania)
- starter kit from the Restart Project