A Conversation With a Repair Café Host

On Saturday, July 21, the Repair Café team visited Ralph Thornton Community Centre and Queen/Saulter Library for our monthly café. This was our third consecutive year visiting this location at Queen Street East and it was once again a successful café!

This time, Wai Chu and Lon from Repair Café had an opportunity to catch up with Judy Leung, the Branch Head, Queen/Saulter, Toronto Public Library, who coordinated the event in concert with Ralph Thornton Community Centre. Judy has been greatly supportive of the Repair Café and regarded the experience of hosting it as hugely rewarding. We asked her why she enjoyed hosting a repair café and how the event has helped her organization to reach out to their community. We also asked her to share her experience about how she managed the different aspects of setting up the event. We thought her insights would help those organizations who are interested in hosting a repair café. Below is an edited version of our conversation.

Repair Café: Why it is important for you to provide a repair café?

Judy Leung: For me, it intersects with my personal and professional interests. I am a cyclist and I bike a lot. Part of it is that it allows me to get around but also it is about sustainability. I care a lot about sustainability.

Repair Café: You not only like organizing the event but also like being in the community bringing people together. So it’s community organizing, bringing people together. That’s good.

Judy Leung: That’s right. I like it, I really do. Look at all the people here. They’re coming to get things fixed, they’re talking to other people, engaging other people, learning how to fix things. It’s a great event, and a great way to work with the community.

Repair Café: And it serves your mandate too. It’s the message you want to convey to your community…

Judy Leung: Yes. This is a lifelong learning opportunity that brings the community together. It’s an important part of our strategic plan.

Repair Café: How do your library and Ralph Thornton Community Centre work together for this event?

Judy Leung: We are a very small library downstairs, but we are fortunate to have the partnership with Ralph Thornton Community Centre. We can share our resources to put on an event like this. Through our partnership and talking to them, they understand this is a very important event for our community. That’s why we are offering it together. We have offered it three years in a row now.

Repair Café: That’s great. And it has been going well…

Judy Leung: Very well. Both organizations, Ralph Thornton Community Centre and Queen & Saulter Library, are committed to the event. We put a lot of resources into organizing the event and getting the community involved. It went smoothly the first time, and even more so the third time.

Repair Café: We see you as an ideal host for Repair Café. Could you talk about what kind of organizing work you have done to set up the event?

Judy Leung: This year is a bit easier since we have established support from past events. We approached the groups who had supported us in the last two years. For the café aspect, we are very fortunate we have quite a few local businesses that are able to donate things. People love the library, so we have received generous donations for refreshments and pizzas. For the bike fixing aspect, we have Ward 30 Bikes participating this year. We also had Bike Sauce helping out and other bike groups showing great interest in participating in the past two years. A lot of my organizing work involves coordinating with all the partners and sponsors and making sure everything comes together nicely.

Repair Café: It is a good message, in terms of getting into the community and connecting with the local groups…

Judy Leung: That’s right. While we are getting donations for Repair Café, we are also introducing the library to the community. So organizing this event has created an opportunity for us to reach out to the community and local businesses.

Repair Café: So Repair Café is helping your institution too.

Judy Leung: Exactly. Through this event, we are able to achieve our targets of reaching out to our community and local businesses, and encouraging people to learn continuously.

Repair Café: I know many library staff have a lot of workloads. How do you talk to them, as they might be worried about the amount of work you need to put into it to make a successful event happen?

Judy Leung: I think it takes time to organize it and so you do need to be well-organized and get help from your own supporting network. For me, I know I can rely on Ralph Thornton to help with the kitchen work. I book it with them ahead of time. For some branches they have a lot of staff. They can try to figure out how to maximize the use of their staff.

Repair Café: Does it involve a lot of poster, email, social media, etc. What have you found really helpful for promotion?

Judy Leung: Ralph Thornton is really good with social media and outreach, so we let them take care of that side of work. Also, we have a good relationship with Riverdale BIA (Business Improvement Association). They are really active, great with the community and great at promoting. So I let them do the promotion for us. I go to their meeting once a month. I still need to promote, but I know those two groups are going to cover the bulk of the promotion work for me.

Repair Café: Great. Is there anything else you want to say?

Judy Leung: For those people who are thinking of hosting a repair cafe, don’t be afraid of doing the work. You will be vastly rewarded with the results. With the Repair Café team, I found that everything runs really smoothly.

Repair Café: So we can tell any library who is interested that they can contact you or we can put them in touch with you?

Judy Leung: They are more than welcome to contact me!

Repair Café: Great. Thank you very much Judy for sharing your Repair Café experience and insights with us!

Our next Repair Café will be held at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre at Bloor and Spadina on Saturday August 25. For details, please visit our Upcoming Events page. Hope to see you there!


Photographs by Lon Appleby and Julie Trinh