Thought Leadership

Return to the Repair Café

By Colin Walls

A while ago, I wrote about an interesting organization with which I was becoming involved: the Repair Café. Now I have attended a number of sessions and fixed a few things, I thought that maybe it was time to report back …

I have now attended 4 of the monthly repair sessions. On each occasion we get around 50 people through the door. They seem to leave quite well satisfied – often they are just pleased that we tried to get something working, even if we were not successful.

My encounters seem to fall into a number of categories:

  • I fix or simply adjust something and send the client away with the item fully working
  • I figure out what the problem is and conclude that it is unfixable
  • I identify the problem and explain to the client what can be done to get it fixed
  • I show the client how to operate the item, which was never faulty in the first place

The atmosphere at the session on a Saturday morning. The repairers are all very positive. There is absolutely no spirit of competition – it is all all about cooperation. The organizers are very dedicated to providing a great service and look after us – coffee/tea and cake is available in a steady supply. They are working hard to support the set up of other Repair Cafés and similar activities in schools – trying to raise children without the throw-away mentality.

A promotional video was made recently, which you can see here or here:

My participation in the video is very minimal [I appear in the background for a moment], but it is full of faces and voices that are familiar to me.

This past weekend, I had an interesting encounter. This lady arrived with a bag full of bits. These bits had previously been a food processor. She had brought it along to a previous session, where one of our colleagues had taken it apart, but ran out of time to do anything further. He suggested that she return on a future occasion, so that it could be looked at some more. He was not present at Saturday’s session. The lady could not remember what the original fault was and we had no idea whether any actual repair was performed.

So, I set about trying to reassemble the machine, with the help of my neighbor. It was like trying to complete a 3-D jigsaw puzzle, without a picture of the finished item, in the dark. We eventually figured out what almost all the parts were for and endeavored to put it together. We had one tiny plastic part left over, which we could not identify. When we powered up the assembled machine, nothing happened. Much of the complexity of the device was due to a complex mechanical and electrical interlock, designed to prevent the user from liquidizing their fingers. Off came the cover again and some more study eventually resulted in the function of the left-over part being identified. Re-assembly then required 4 hands and a certain amount was done by touch, but we got there. When we applied power, the machine came to life. A little adjustment to the controls and we were happy that it was fully working.

Another satisfied customer!

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at