A second chance for broken appliances
A vacuum cleaner that lost all power to live, a printer refusing services. Most people have at least a few appliances that are out of order. But should we just toss them out and take them to the scrap heap? After all, replacing them is fairly easy. They are just a mouse click and a boat ride from China away. But that’s a waste of money, and very unnecessary. Just visit one of the seven Eindhoven Repair Cafes. They are run by skillful volunteers who love fixing your broken appliance, lamp, toy, clock, or whatever needs fixing. It is up to you to decide how much you can and want to pay for their services. Isn't that a good deal?
Carrying a broken projector, we enter Andromeda society in Woensel Noord. The place is bustling with seniors playing billiards or catching up on the latest gossip over a cup of coffee. On Friday afternoons, when Repair Cafe Woensel sets up shop, everyone is welcome here. Founder Fons Weijts started his repair café in 2013. On 3 March, he will celebrate their tenth anniversary with all the volunteers.
With great joy, Fons starts to tell us his story: “The concept of a Repair Cafe already existed in the Netherlands but not in Eindhoven. Once I retired, I got time and skills to spare and immediately liked the idea of starting a Repair Cafe here. Why shouldn’t I? I have a background in mechanical engineering, have always been handy, and have fixed everything around the house myself. How great is it to help others fix their stuff as well? So, I went looking for a place to set up shop and found it here, at Andromeda. At first, I used my own tools for the reparations, but as the Repair Cafe took off, I was able to buy tools from the voluntary contributions. Nowadays, we are with twelve repairers, all seasoned techies – from electricians to mechanics. And everybody keeps showing up, week after week. That’s definitely something I’m proud of!"
Bringing people together in their neighborhoods is one of the foundations of the Repair Cafes. But Fons also has another strong motivation: "I call myself a sustainability freak. It shows in all kinds of things, from turning back the heating, to the solar panels that have been on my rooftop for twelve years. It just shocks me how many materials are wasted because people throw away their broken appliances. All these materials are essentially taken from the earth. If we are so reckless with our resources and just keep on replacing stuff, it truly is a disaster for our planet.”
From broken appliances to broken hearts
In the meantime, repairer John carefully inspects our broken projector, with all its tiny parts on the circuit board. He measures the voltage on several outputs. And does the LED still work? Meanwhile, at the end of the homemade repair table, a volunteer repairs a clock and an elderly lady joins us with a broken vacuum cleaner. The atmosphere is friendly, and everyone is chatting away. The topics vary, from broken appliances to broken hearts.
The 'customers' of the cafe – like its volunteers – tend to be seniors. Young folks and people with immigration backgrounds haven't found their way to the Repair Cafes. And that's a pity, according to Fons. "We mostly see elderly people here. I guess that's also due to this place's social aspect; some just come for a chat and a cup of coffee. But it's a shame so few young people come to have their stuff repaired. Maybe they don't know that we can fix many broken things! Technical knowledge is declining, and technology in appliances is getting more complicated. So, it may seem easier just to order a replacement. But here at the Repair Cafe, we can sure fix a lot! And that makes a huge difference for the environment and your wallet. I also think the Repair Cafes are just not very well known yet. Besides, young people are less likely to visit a communal house to see what's going on or just chat. They just go on their businesses and immediately go downtown for whatever they might need."
Stories behind our stuff
Fons finds great satisfaction in helping people by repairing their stuff, especially when there's meaning behind an appliance. "Some items have emotional value to their owners. I remember a widow who came by with a broken radio. Her late husband used to listen to that radio all the time. It's gratifying to repair such a thing. And sometimes you surprise both the customer and yourself with a repair. A young boy came by with his mother. The plug of his headphones had broken off in his game computer, and there was no way to remove it. At least, so it seemed. After some thought, I put a spot of solder on a wire and a spot of solder on the broken plug. I melted the two together, and that's how I pulled the piece of plug out. Well, you should have seen the boy! At first, he was waiting, bored to death and against his will brought by his mum. And then BAM! Plug out, and problem solved! His mood immediately changed; he was so happy."
3.200 appliances saved from the scrap heap
During our conversation, Fons is occasionally asked for advice by a colleague. Not surprising, after all, he has plenty of experience after ten years of repairing. But which appliance breaks down most often? It doesn't take him long to answer: "The vacuum cleaner for sure, but the coffee machine is a close second! Out of twelve defective appliances, about eight leave the cafe working again. We have been repairing appliances forty weeks a year for ten years now. That's 3,200 appliances saved from the dumpster in Repair Cafe Woensel alone. Just imagine what that means for the rest of the Netherlands. The Repair Cafe is also starting to gain ground internationally. At Repair Cafe Netherlands, we seek ways to legislate that European appliances are more repairable. Manufacturers often don’t have a repair service. A shame! And if they do, repairs cost a lot of time and money. While you can sometimes just order a part on the internet for a trifle and have the appliance repaired in no time!"
Visit a Repair Cafe near you
Back to our projector. For a while, things seemed hopeful. But alas, the projector turns out to be beyond repair. A tiny component on the circuit board gets too hot, and replacing it is complicated. However, it was well worth a try. And it was entertaining anyway. So, do you also have a malfunctioning appliance? Then find a Repair Café near you. They are spread all over Eindhoven. Or drop by Repair Café Woensel and join them for cake on 3 March at 1 pm, during their tenth anniversary!