Caroline Spencer spoke to Simon Langlois, who co-founded the St Brelade’s Repair Café with Max Livesey
What is your background?
I got into radio and electronics at school, then studied electronics and communications engineering for three years in the UK before becoming a Merchant Navy Officer. I returned to Jersey after 11 years to become an Air Traffic Control Engineer at the Airport.
Where did the idea for the café come from?
Max raised the idea on the St Brelade Parishioners Facebook Group. I asked him to present it to us at the parish Climate Change Action Group meeting and it received unanimous support, including from Connétable Mike Jackson who later performed the opening ceremony by cutting a cable with wire cutters.
It has three main objectives:
*Environmental: To help reduce the 1.5 million kg of electrical, electronic and textile waste that we ‘dump’ into recycling every year, most of which ends up incinerated or in UK landfill;
*Social: To bridge the generation gap by bringing parishioners of all ages together with a common purpose whilst enjoying a cuppa, cake and music; and
*Educational: To encourage people to learn how to repair things, and to give them the knowledge and confidence to repair things themselves in future.
When you bring along a faulty or broken item, you are assigned to a repairer and you both work together on repairing the item, learning new repair skills in the process.
If it’s busy and you have to wait, you can enjoy a cuppa and a piece of cake, listen to live music, browse the DIY and repair books or enjoy practical/repair-related games and puzzles. You can watch other repairs going on, and even help out if another pair of hands is needed.
Have you always been interested in fixing things?
Yes, for more years than I can remember. When I was younger, I remember the feeling of achievement when I fixed my Mum’s tumble dryer with a piece of Meccano. It had been written off so I was allowed to have a go, and I’ve been fixing things ever since.
I started making carts out of old pram wheels and dens out of pallet boards, and I’ve never really stopped. I keep a store of old bits of wood, metal, wire, plastics and other materials. Some might call it junk, but to me it’s a treasure trove of useful assets I can use to repair or make things.
How did the first event in October go?
Our first pop-up repair café went very well. There was a steady stream of visitors. At one point we had 38 people in the hall (just short of the 40 limit). I can safely say that we’re all looking forward to the next one. It was great to see so many items being repaired in such a short time, including bikes, dresses, an old vacuum, jeans, a ukulele, a lamp, a handbag, a guitar amp, a clock, a mini planetarium projector and even a hoverboard.
What do you need now?
Finding premises is our top priority. We desperately need space to set up a proper workshop area so we don’t have to set up and dismantle an entire workshop every session. We need space for donated tools, for repair materials and for items beyond repair which have salvageable parts we can use to repair other items.
We’ve been very fortunate to have so many people volunteer. The wide range of repairer skills is amazing and offers of help are always welcome. We were also delighted when Jersey Electricity agreed to ‘jump-start’ the whole project with a donation to cover essentials like insurance and a Portable Appliance Tester.
Is the idea to stay within the parish of St Brelade?
Yes, for a couple of reasons. St Brelade’s population of over 10,000 is probably enough for a single repair café to start with, but more importantly, we want to encourage more repair cafés to start up around the Island. If we were to ‘road show’ the project around the parishes, that might reduce the incentive for other repair cafés to start.
If the idea catches on in Jersey as it has in the UK and worldwide, then demand will only increase. As people come to realise that they don’t have to contribute to the ‘throw-away’ society, they will start to look at their possessions in a different light. Recycling should be the last resort and repair, the first.
In the long term I think a minimum of three repair cafés could serve the Island’s increasing demand to repair, reuse and repurpose before recycling:
1) West: St Brelade, St Peter, St Ouen, St Mary, St Lawrence and St John;
2) East: Trinity, St Martin, St Saviour, Grouville and St Clement; and
3) St Helier;
The Guernsey Repair Café in St Peter Port is open twice a week to meet demand and seems to have become part of their Island life. I can see the same thing happening here.
When is your next event?
We’re hoping to have another pop-up session in November if we can find a suitable venue. Details will be posted on the St Brelade Repair Café Facebook group.