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Cornwall Council was aware that waste electrical collections were reaching 3,000 tonnes per annum and that there were items being deposited at household waste recycling centres (HWRCs) that could be repaired rather than recycled. The Council decided to introduce a new reuse and repair service to keep suitable products in use. REPIC works with Cornwall Council to collect and treat the ‘cooling’ appliances which are not suitable for reuse from all of its HWRC and Transfer Stations.

Cornwall Council’s new initiative subsequently received the 2020 LARAC award for the best waste minimisation project, sponsored by REPIC.

After the award win, REPIC caught up with Peter Blenard, waste and environment contract officer, at Cornwall Council for an update on the Repair Café Network.

What prompted Cornwall Council to consider setting up the Repair Café Network?

Cornwall is a rural county with a large number of towns and small communities, with significant deprivation and issues with individual social isolation. At the beginning of 2019, Cornwall Council declared a Climate Emergency, and as a team we were looking at ways to play our part to improve the local environment.

Having been made aware of a national movement of Repair Cafés, which have challenged a throw away culture and have provided places, free of charge, which allow people to come together to not only have items repaired, but also to share skills over a cuppa and some cake. Collectively we felt establishing a network would assist the Council in its aims to notably reduce social isolation, enhance communities and promote the re-use of materials.

What is the aim of the Repair Café Network and who does it help?

We were aware that the volumes of electricals and other waste streams that are deposited at HWRC was increasing. With a significant quantity of this material being able to be repaired rather than recycled, the aim of the Repair Café Network was to offer a place for those inclined to repair what breaks to do so, so they can continue to use, rather than buy new. As well as encourage others to repair before reselling or passing on those items that they don’t use anymore, all under supervision from those more experienced.

Repairing items and reusing them again or passing them on to those in need, saves valuable raw materials from being landfilled. It was also noted that for each product a repair café mends, there is a saving of 24 kilos of CO2 emissions released into the environment, reducing social isolation and promoting re-use of materials.

What challenges did you face?

We set out with the ambition to be the facilitator of the network rather than the manager of the repair cafés, aligned to the Council’s aspirations to devolve assets to communities. Following discussions with established repair cafés, we found the three biggest challenges were: 1) Where to begin 2) Feeling alone and 3) The initial cost of setting up.

 How did you overcome these challenges?

In response to these challenges we launched the Repair Café Network in 2019 as the facilitator, and provided public liability insurance to each café. This is often a large initial outgoing. By removing this barrier through working with the council’s insurers to class those repair cafés as an extension of the Authority’s voluntary work we were able to reduce the start up costs significantly.

A Repair Café Starter Pack was also compiled to offer an illustrated step-by-step guide to help anyone interested get started with a repair café in their local area. We also set up social media channels to enable our members to share their ideas and thoughts on their own experience to support each other. This coincided with 1-2-1 personal help in delivering their first repair café event.

What benefits have been gained from the Repair Café Network?

Within the first year, we have established a Repair Café Network that has:

  • Created 16 individual repair cafés throughout Cornwall servicing 24% of the population
  • Helped deliver 55 events across the network
  • Had over 1,500 people attend a repair café event including volunteers
  • Repaired 316 items
  • Saved 758kg of waste from processing
  • Saved over 18 tons of CO2 emissions

What are the future plans?

Hopefully we’d like to open a further five cafés next year and support the launch of these into their communities – the future aim of the project is to have a repair café in every town or village in Cornwall.

REPIC is approved as a B2C and B2B producer WEEE compliance scheme by the Environment Agency.

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