Chris Lee, co-founder of Royston Repair Café

PUBLISHED: 00:00 17 April 2020

Chris Lee (right) advises on repairing a chair

Chris Lee (right) advises on repairing a chair

Chris Lee

We speak to the co-founder of the mend-rather-than-throwaway establishment.

Chris Lee (kneeling right) with members of the Royston Repair CafeChris Lee (kneeling right) with members of the Royston Repair Cafe

What is Royston Repair Café?

At the Royston Repair Café we reduce waste by keeping items in use for longer. I co-founded it in 2014 and, with a brilliant team of volunteers, we run four community repair sessions a year. We describe ourselves as ‘a clinic, not a hospital’ providing a free assessment and, where possible, a free fix.

Where did the idea come from?

Growing up I was aware of global inequality, environmental issues and the scarcity of natural resources. My parents were against waste – we couldn’t leave the kitchen table until we’d cleaned our plates. Later, being a parent got me thinking more about the world we’re leaving for the next generation. I’ve always been interested in making and mending things – woodworking and furniture repairs are my speciality.

I first heard about repair cafés on Twitter and the idea of bringing the community together to save both waste and money grabbed my imagination. The original repair cafés were set up in the Netherlands and there are now over 2,000 worldwide. When we set up six years ago, there were only 10 others in the UK, there are now more than 150.


How has it been received?

We’re fully booked for each session. It’s very friendly and our fix rate is always over 50 per cent. The events are also popular with our volunteer repairers – they love the problem-solving nature of the work, there’s great camaraderie, and the gratitude of happy owners makes it all worthwhile.

What sort of things come through the door?

We’ll take a look at pretty much any item someone can carry in – electrical equipment, bikes, toys, clothes, computers, furniture, garden tools. The most satisfying items to fix are ones with a strong emotional attachment.

In 2017, I was part of the world’s biggest repair café event in Cambridge. I mended a 100-year-old garden fork – originally owned by the great-grandmother of the little girl who attended with her mum. As the current owner said to me, ‘I could get a new fork or replace the wooden handle, but it’s my mother’s and her mother’s hands that worked the soil with this particular handle – that’s what matters to me.’

How do you see the future of consumerism?

I fear future generations may lose the knowledge and skills to be thrifty. At the same time, products are not made to last and it’s increasingly difficult to get inside to repair them. But I’m still hopeful – more people are trying to live sustainably, and TV programmes like The Repair Shop are bringing the idea of repairing, rather than replacing, much-loved items to new audiences.

For more on the project and details of its upcoming sessions, go to facebook.com/RoystonRepairCafe

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