Preston's very own "repair shop" focuses on giving everyday items a longer life

A duff alarm clock, a blanket with a hole in it and a pair of shorts chewed up by a dog - all items that it might not be unreasonable to assume should be destined for the bin.

Thursday, 12th August 2021, 11:59 am
Updated Thursday, 12th August 2021, 12:00 pm

Yet not if you have the inclination to get them repaired - and know where to look to find people who are up to the job.

In Preston, that place is the Larder Café - or at least it is on the fourth Saturday of every month between 11am and 1pm, when a small but determined band of fixers turns the Lancaster Road venue into the city’s very own repair café.

In the two months since it launched, the venture - operated by Climate Action Preston - has become so popular that other handy-people are now being sought to join the team and tackle the often unexpected challenges that come through the door.

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Jennifer and Patrick Randolph-Quinney with a patched-up bedspread and resurrected toaster courtesy of Preston's repair café (image: Kelvin Stuttard)

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Café worker-come-darner Ruby Henderson specialises in fabric repairs and is delighted to have been worked so hard by an expectant public - but neither she nor her fellow repairers could do anything when presented with a 1990s Furby toy whose electrics had failed.

“There are four of us at the moment and we’ve got a cross-section of skills - in fact, a couple of the guys can turn their hand to most things that come in. But we could certainly do with some other volunteers and particularly anybody with specialist knowledge.

“Of course, we can't guarantee that people in need of those specialist skills will come in on a given day, but if we had a few more volunteers, we could take enquiries from people and arrange for a particular repairer to be there next time to see if they could help,” Ruby explains.

The Larder's Ruby Henderson has got fabric repairs all sewn up (image: The Larder)

She says that she has been pleasantly surprised at the age range of those seeking to repair and reuse items rather than let them add to society’s collective rubbish pile.

“A lot of the older generation are much more make-do-and-mend anyway, but there have been quite a few younger people coming in, too. I think there is a more positive attitude in general towards the climate and having less of a throwaway culture.

“Last month I did everything from fixing a zip on a pair of boots to repairing seams on shirts. They are all really easy, quick things to fix if you know how - and much cheaper than replacing the garment.”

And the most common repair request to date? Broken toasters whose owners are unwilling to accept that their appliances are just that - toast.

The Larder café becomes a repair café on the fourth Saturday of every month between 11am and 1pm (image: Google)

It was that vital bit of breakfast kit - along with a dog-eared bedspread - that has tempted Jennifer Randolph-Quinney to take a trip to the repair café from her Lower Penwortham home twice in as many months.

Both items were duly fixed - something Jennifer says her mum and grandfather would have been proud of.

“I think my mother influenced me a lot - she has always been a big recycler and adamant about environmental issues. And my grandfather was alive during the Great Depression in the US, so he was always very economic with everything.

“As an adult, it has always been important to me not to waste things and I'm really annoyed when things don't last. Why should I throw away something that should work?

“With the toaster, I didn't know what it was that had stopped working - but to have things repaired officially is always so ridiculously expensive that people just discard them. Thats; why the repair café is such a great idea.”

However, Jennifer does not stop at ensuring she gets the maximum life out of her own purchases. She regularly rescues other dumped items - one in particular.

“I have five umbrellas I have collected from the street - if the material isn't ripped, then it's just the structure that needs fixing. So if anybody knows how to fix umbrellas…” she laughs.

But she is far more serious about the need for everyone to play their part in avoiding waste - especially after the publication earlier this week of the intergovernmental panel on climate change report which warned of the impact on humanity if global warming is not brought under control.

Jennifer says that while that big picture requires “systemic change”, it should not discourage people from doing their bit at a local level.

“[Given] the situation we’re in now, it is not enough that each person does just what they are capable of, we need change on a much larger scale - but that doesn't mean we should all sit on our behinds and do nothing.”

Sonia Phillips from Climate Action Preston says that the city’s new repair café is part of a “global movement” of similar concepts.

“The idea is to reduce waste, reduce consumption and therefore reduce carbon emissions. It's also a great way to bring the community together and for people to learn new skills, so that they can repair their own possessions with confidence,” Sonia explains.

Meanwhile, Ruby says that while the repair café at The Larder has so far attracted largely practical items, as opposed to the sentimental ones often brought into the BBC’s similarly-titled Repair Shop, the programme has certainly given recycling and reuse a boost.

“It has helped people to see the beauty of restoring something - and see the things that can be salvaged.”

HOW TO GET INVOLVED

If you would like to volunteer, email: rep[email protected]

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