It’s National Volunteers’ Week (June 1 –7). And it gives us a chance to say thank you to all those people who go out of their way to help others. Like The Repair Café Portsmouth!
Passing On Skills
Does the wartime phrase “make do and mend” sound familiar? Well, it seems many of us are keen to embrace those thriftier times. The Repair Café Portsmouth is helping to do just that, with volunteers passing on the skills needed to extend the life of anything from a bicycle to a holey jumper.
The Repair Café initiative began in Amsterdam, the brainchild of Martine Postma. It was so successful that a foundation was set up, and now there are over 1,300 Repair Cafés worldwide. Due to our throwaway society, many people have lost, or have never learned, the skills required to mend things. That’s where the Repair Cafés come in.
Meg Whittaker explained how she got involved when the initiative started up in Portsmouth.
“As I had retired and was looking into volunteering opportunities I thought it sounded a really nice idea. So, I trained as an art therapist, but have always liked making stuff, knitting and textiles particularly. I’ve always preferred to repair something rather than buying new.
“Three of us do the fabrics,” Meg told me. “I do the hand sewing, and a colleague, Denise, who is a dressmaker by trade, has her sewing machine for more complicated repairs.
“Then there’s Laura, who also does hand stitching. We show people how to fix everything from treasured soft toys through to fixing zips on rucksacks and shopping bags.”
The Repair Café is held once a month and there’s a mix of skills available.
“There are people showing how to fix computers or electrical items, a leather worker and jewellery repairer, and people who are good at gluing broken crockery.
“Someone recently came in with a delicate Japanese tea set that had been his mum’s. It was broken into so many pieces it was like a jigsaw puzzle. Obviously, once repaired, it couldn’t be used, but the man wanted to sit it on a dresser to remind him of his mum. People often bring in sentimental items.
“Many who come can afford to replace their items, but they’d rather find out how to fix it than chuck it away.”
There are around 15 to 20 volunteers, all passing on their own skill sets. For some, it’s also about the chance to meet others in their community.
“There’s a café where people can sit and chat, which is good as they may have to wait for a volunteer to become free.”
Meg would recommend volunteering for anyone thinking of helping out.
“It’s nice to do something in the community. You get a lot from it: you can practise skills and learn new ones. And have the chance to talk to people who come in, some with an interesting story about their item.
“You learn about your local area and the people in it. The thing I’d say to people thinking about it is, don’t underestimate the skills you have.
“The computer guys are in awe that we might take a dress in or lower a hem, and we’re amazed that they can open a laptop and identify a problem!
“It takes time to become established in the local community, but it’s so worthwhile and good for the environment.”