Chorley Repair Cafe: The green group giving knackered knick-knacks a new lease of life

The repair cafe in full flowThe repair cafe in full flow
The repair cafe in full flow
Often, when people believe broken items are beyond salvaging, all it takes is someone with some specialist knowledge to lend a hand to turn just another discarded piece of would-be trash on its way to landfill into a working whatever-it-may-be once more.

Started in November 2019, Chorley Repair Cafe is all about getting those bits of would-be trash going once again. On a mission to not only reduce waste, the repair cafe also seeks to reduce the need for people to contribute towards an increasingly nonchalant and carbon-heavy throwaway culture which sees consumers constantly buy and replace rather than mend and make do.

Meeting on the second Saturday of the month in the halls at Chorley United Reformed Church on Hollinshead Street from 10am-1pm, the repair cafe matches skilled volunteers keen to repair knackered knick-knacks with people in possession of said knicks and knacks in need of some TLC. All whilst doing that extra bit for the planet.

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"I've always loved repairing and tinkering with things and the repair cafe just felt like something people wanted," said Andy Littlejohns, who works as a Communities Development Worker with the church and organises the repair cafe. "The environmental angle was also a big part of it; in our culture, people look to buy new, which is frustrating, and manufacturers make more money out of replacements [so things aren't made to last].

Volunteers Paul Blackett and Abdulla IsmilVolunteers Paul Blackett and Abdulla Ismil
Volunteers Paul Blackett and Abdulla Ismil

"It's great when someone is happy with a fixed item which has been saved from landfill," added Andy, 32, with Speaker of the House of Commons and Chorley MP Sir Lindsay Hoyle in attendance at their latest meeting. "I think the sessions are really hectic - although I would say that, because I organise it! - but there's a real buzz and a positive atmosphere."

With around 25 volunteer repairers in total, Chorley Repair Cafe usually has 10 or so on hand each session to offer their assistance in bringing items back to life and in the process saving people money, sharing invaluable repair skills, and putting smiles on the faces of those whose items have been given a new lease of life.

"The repairers absolutely love it and even people who go away without having their item repaired are generally quite happy because they know they can throw it away with a clean conscience knowing there's nothing more can be done for it," explained Andy, with the repair cafe boasting a success rate of about 80%.

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"Lots of people who come have a green conscience but we also get people who can't afford to replace items," he added. "We try not to take away from repair businesses - people ask about their phones but there are plenty of phone repair shops in Chorley - but we do want to encourage people who can't afford replacements to come along."

(From left) Organiser Andy Littlejohns, Speaker of the House Sir Lindsay Hoyle, and volunteer Adam Read(From left) Organiser Andy Littlejohns, Speaker of the House Sir Lindsay Hoyle, and volunteer Adam Read
(From left) Organiser Andy Littlejohns, Speaker of the House Sir Lindsay Hoyle, and volunteer Adam Read

From vacuum cleaners to typewriters, 100-year-old briefcases to wheelchairs, the repair cafe has managed to fix a broad spectrum of items so far. "We get a mix of things which people are nostalgic about and things which they need," said Andy, who has lived in Chorley since July last year. "There's a real community spirit to it."

Given that repair cafes continue to grow in popularity in response to the environmental damage caused by hyper-capitalist 21st century lifestyles, Andy is always on the lookout for more DIY-inclined altruists to volunteer. He is also exploring the idea of using a 3D printer to make bespoke parts to fix trickier items.

"I love it when just swapping a simple part brings something back to life," Andy said. "The people who do the electronics amaze me: something can be dead and five minutes later they've stripped it down, pinpointed the problem, and off it goes. As far as I'm concerned, it's magic.

"I'm usually knackered after a session, but there's a real sense of pride and there's a real enthusiasm for it," he added. "It's so rewarding."

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