This content is not available in your region

Repair cafes: Inside the high street hubs giving broken electronics a new lease of life

A fixer shows a woman how to repair her kitchen appliance
A fixer shows a woman how to repair her kitchen appliance   -   Copyright  AP Photo   -  
By Hannah Brown  with AP

With few of us having money to spare at the moment, we can worry about what we’d do if the electronics which power our everyday lives broke. Microwaves, TVs, kettles, hoovers…it’s long list of the electricals we depend on for food, drinks, cleaning, communication and entertainment. 

In fact, European homes have an average of 74 electricals, according to the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Forum (WEEE). Even just one item malfunctioning could be very costly.

But what if instead of replacing these items when they break, we could repair them for free? That’s where repair cafes come in.

What is a repair café?

Every Wednesday afternoon, a group of volunteers come to a repair workshop in an Amsterdam café to learn or use technical skills.

Locals from across the city bring along broken electrical devices, like DIY tools and kitchen appliances. Then they work with a team of mechanics and engineers to try and bring them back to life, saving clients money and keeping perfectly good equipment out of landfill.

Those who visit often learn new skills, empowering them to be braver about trying to fix things around the house.

Repair cafes are ‘great news for the environment’

The café is in an area of east Amsterdam called De Meervaart and it’s the perfect location for the unusual café.

“People with tight budgets live in this neighbourhood. It's nice if things can be repaired. You can choose to put one euro in our donation pot or you might have to spend €60 or €100 for a new device," says Kim Zuiver, the administrator for the café.

About 80 per cent of the things people bring in we manage to fix.
Edward Tonino
volunteer repairman

For the volunteer repairmen and women there’s a real sense of satisfaction in their work. And it’s great news for the environment.

"About 80 per cent of the things people bring in we manage to fix. That's very satisfying for clients but also for us as mechanics," says Edward Tonino, one of the fixers.

"The best thing is when you come home in the evening after a day at work knowing that you have helped a lot of people and made people go home very happy."

This repair café is part of a network of dozens of cafes across Amsterdam where experts try to repair old items.

Top tips on visiting a repair cafe

If you’ve got an appliance you’d like to try and fix, it’s worth checking the house rules of your local repair café, rather than just showing up.

Most cafes ask you to get in touch beforehand with information about your item. They’ll let you know if it’s something they can try to fix or not.

Some cafes will recommend that you buy specific parts to bring with you for your fix, whilst others will have parts that you can pay for whilst you’re there.

A repair slot is usually only for one item, so if you’ve got multiple items that need repairing you’ll need to book more than one slot or rejoin the queue.

And don’t forget, it’s a great learning opportunity. Rather than seeing it as a free repair service, make sure you ask lots of questions and learn the art of fixing from your repairman or woman.

You can search for your local repair café here

Is it easy to fix electrical appliances?

Most manufacturers want you to buy a new product from them, rather than fixing the one you already have. This is why they use the design technique of ‘planned obsolescence’, meaning products are only designed to work for a few years before they malfunction.

According to one of the repairmen at the Café Amsterdam De Meervaart, Bart van der Burg, some devices are also designed to require special tools to open, something most people won’t have.

As inflation soars and the cost of living rises, more people are looking for ways to economise. Keeping electrical household items working for as long as possible is one way to cut spending.

"We're seeing that it's getting busier lately. It has something to do with the fact that more people have less money to buy new stuff and also want to give their products a second life," says Tonino.

Watch the video above to learn more about repair cafes.

Video editor • Joanna Adhem