Repair Café Volunteers as New Leaders

2022 was a year of re-opening. We brought back in-person Repair Cafés. Thanks to our volunteers and community partners, we continued the work of Repair Café Toronto (RCT) and had the opportunity to explore new ideas. In 2023 we will celebrate the 10th anniversary of our first repair café!

Our Focus Areas in the New Year

We will work to build on what we have created and expand our reach to more people in different parts of our city. The social changes after three years of the pandemic, the rising living costs associated with inflation, and the increasing threats of climate change make our work even more relevant and timely. To better serve the needs of our community in the coming year, here is what we want to focus on:

1. Repair Café Toronto volunteers as new leaders

Our volunteers and community partners have supported RCT in leading change for the repair movement to combat needless waste. Fixers tell us how much they enjoy helping others fix their broken household items. Some fixers have taken it to the next level by organizing repair cafés themselves. We see our volunteers like fixer Frank taking the lead to organize repair cafés at a community hub in his neighbourhood. In this short video, Frank talks about why he has taken this initiative and shares tips on how to overcome obstacles.

We see great opportunities for repair activities from our community partners, such as the St. James Town Community Corner, Woburn Local Planning Table and Creative Reuse Toronto. There is great potential to expand repair activity through further collaboration and by others providing repair activities. We hope our volunteers will look for these opportunities in their neighbourhoods.

2. Neighbours Helping neighbours

We want to expand this core philosophy so that as many people as possible in the city have the opportunity to make a difference. The most impactful repairs tend to be the subtle ones we do every day, whether it’s helping those next door with installing a shelf or the kid across the street with tuning their bike. Through local initiatives, we can truly get to know our neighbours and build relationships with one another over time.

3. Repairing is Healing

This is what our volunteer fixers do at Repair Café. When our fixer André was asked what it means to him to volunteer with RCT, his answer gives a deep appreciation of our fixers’ work: “For me to volunteer at Repair Café Toronto means not only to repair items but I found that it also provides a sense of healing to someone who may bring in an item that has been in their possession for many years or even multiple generations.” Repairing objects reminds us of our responsibility in taking care of our environment and communities – it boosts our well-being, which is very much needed in our world today.

Our Strategies for 2023

Source: Ork Posters Toronto Neighbourhoods Map

1. More repair activities: A distributed model  
We will work to increase our reach by developing a distributed model. We will organize 4 to 5 main repair café events and lead workshops in the new year and shift our energy and time to supporting others to organize additional repair activities. We want to see multiple repair cafés offered in different neighbourhoods across the city. These initiatives can be located in various locations, such as community centres, libraries, churches, retirement homes, schools, wherever there is space for people to gather. Repair activities can be arranged with a small number of fixers and volunteers so that an event is not complicated to arrange. Our support to others starting local repair hubs can include answering organizational questions, helping to find fixers and volunteers, promoting events, providing materials and doing training.
This distributed model is a more sustainable model that will result in a larger reach of our audience across the city. It aims to take advantage of existing activities in local communities and grow the leadership of our capable volunteers and reduce the need for volunteers and visitors to travel far.

2. More workshops
With the support of our knowledgeable volunteers, RCT will continue to offer a variety of repair workshops providing both concepts and hands-on learning experiences. These workshops can be designed for different groups, such as community organizations, seniors and students.

3. More youth engagement
It is imperative to develop the skills and appreciation of repair among young people. Repair Café offers participants a space to interact and learn from each other. We will continue to find opportunities for more young people to further grow Repair Café through knowledge transfer and repair events in high schools, colleges and universities. Alvin and Saba, two new members of our RCT Organizing Committee, represent the young generation bringing new ideas and energy.

4. More repair advocacy and support for Right to Repair legislation
Significant headway is taking place around the globe – Europe, India, United States – in changing laws to allow citizens to repair products they have purchased. It is important that we find ways to effectively promote enabling laws in our country and provinces. We want to support those leading advocacy efforts and use our broad network to increase momentum to move the R2R yardstick forward.

5. More Repair Centre project development
As demand for repair community service and education grows and the need to grow knowledge about repair and resource recovery increases, it will be beneficial for us to create a space as the headquarters for all the repair hubs across the city. This long-term goal, tentatively named The Centre for Repair and Resource Recovery, will aim to provide education on repair, host repair workshops, community repair events and conferences, provide equipment and tools for DIY repairs, and offer research labs for sustainable product design and resource recovery.

2022 Highlights

1. In-person mini repair cafés

These events were hosted by our long-time partners such as Toronto Public Library branches, Central Neighbourhood House, Dufferin Grove Farmers’ Market, LAMP Community Health Centre, and St. Lawrence ReMarket, among others. We organized small events and outdoor locations. At each event we limited the number of fixers due to space availability and participants were encouraged to wear masks. Response to these events from both the volunteers and visitors was very enthusiastic.

2. Educational workshops for post-secondary and community audiences
Our hope is to expand repair education opportunities. Examples of recent volunteer-run workshops include: regular 4-week workshops at St. James Town Community Corner, summer day camp repair activities and Zoom workshops with the Rexdale Women’s Centre, Woburn Local Planning Table, Ralph Thornton Community Centre and Toronto Public Library, plus fixer Jannette’s visible mending workshop at Double Take thrift store and Central Neighbourhood House.

RCT was invited to speak at Seneca College’s Green Citizen Symposium in October. The Oct. 26 workshop, “The Importance of Repair in a Sustainable Society”, was offered in collaboration with Durham College’s Global Class. Paul, RCT co-founder and fixer, joined by fixer Alan, were in conversation with Lon, RCT volunteer and professor and founder of Global Class Paul and Alan highlighted the most common household items that need repair, demonstrated how to extend the lifespan of broken items through repairing, and discussed how repair supports the circular economy. The workshop had over 120 participants with many students expressing interest in repair.

3. Weekly community drop-off and in-person services
Early in the year, our community partner Creative Reuse Toronto offered RCT space to accept drop off of broken items from community members every Wednesday afternoon. Later in the year we were able to offer in-person repair on Sunday afternoons. Thanks to the support of RCT fixers and volunteers, a good number of visitors have had their broken household electronics and clothing items repaired.

4. Community events initiated by our volunteers

Fixer Frank organized two popular mini repair events in his neighbourhood at Port Union Community Recreation Centre this past fall. Fixer René set up a table to promote RCT at the Roncesvalles ReMarket in September. René was joined by fixer Moshe and his son. These are excellent examples of the wonderful leadership of our volunteers, enabling RCT to do more for our communities.

5. Social media and e-registration

Shout out to volunteers behind the scenes, to Sandra and Monica for their social media beats and to Dave for his dedication to improve our e-registration platform.

6. Media feature 
RCT is regarded as one of the key local organizations leading the change for a more sustainable, circular economy. In October, our three co-founders along with fixer Julie were featured in a Toronto Star article.

Repair Café from Last Decade to Next Decade
In 2013, we started out to change society’s throwaway mindset and bring people together to learn about repairing. Almost 10 years later, RCT has become a leader in the repair movement. Here are just a few examples of our contributions:

Source: Toronto Star October 2, 2022 edition

1. Repair Café Toronto is the longest-running Repair Café in Canada and our cafés operate as a well-oiled machine. We have become the go-to organization for learning about how to organize Repair Cafés. We have been providing repair workshops. We have helped many organizations both within and outside Canada to start their own Repair Cafés.
2. Our work started long before the introduction of Ontario’s Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act in 2016. Repair has become one of the key ways for building the circular economy as presented in the Strategy for a Waste-free Ontario: Building the Circular Economy.
3. When our fixers show and support visitors in making repairs, Repair Café addresses a key barrier in product repair which is consumer perception and willingness to participate in repair activity, as highlighted in the new report Landscape Review of Repairability in Canada. We show our visitors that fixing is fun and everyone can vibe along to the beat of repair.

Your Thoughts?
We would love to hear what you think of our 2023 strategies and hope you will be interested in getting involved in any of the ways described or another not mentioned. Would you like to start a repair activity in your home/school/work place? Have you any suggestions for our Repair Centre project? Please let us know.

Final Words
To build a better and sustainable future for all of us, everyone can play an active role. Our past 10 years speak to our record as change-makers. Repair Café volunteers lead change. We are the change and will continue to rise to challenges in the next year and the decade ahead.
We look forward to seeing our community thrive!

Wishing everyone happy repairing in 2023!