S1E7 Repair Cafe

At the time of this interview Chris Hooper had been running a monthly Repair Cafe in Castlemaine for over a year. In that time they saved over 600kg of waste from being thrown out; objects, clothing and mechanical items that can now live to see another day.  In this episode I speak to Chris about how it all started, how it works and where it is going. I also spoke to some of her repair volunteers, who talk about what it is like to be a repairer, why they do it and some of the things they have been asked to repair.

Listen to an update about this in an episode released three years later called Repair.


This episode was created in 2018 as part of an eight part series called An Environment For Change. This series was supported by MAINfm and the Mount Alexander Shire Council.


Transcript:

Allie Hanly: You are listening to An Environment for Change, an eight-part series looking at some of the many people in the Mount Alexander Shire who are working to combat climate change and promote sustainable living. These are local people who are working towards changing our habits so we can all move forward into a vibrant, healthy, and sustainable future.

In this series we’ll hear from local farmers, Boomerang Bags, Repair Cafe, local environment groups, activists, and concerned citizens. You can hear it at 9:00 AM on Monday mornings on MainFM 94.9 or listen to anytime by jumping online to the MainFM SoundCloud page. This series was made possible by a community grant from the Mount Alexander Shire Council.

Theme music for An Environment for Change plays.

Allie: his week on An Environment for Change I’m speaking with Chris Hooper. In 2017 she initiated the Castlemaine Repair Cafe and has been running one once a month ever since. The concept of a Repair Cafe was developed in 2009 by Martine Postma. The concept is simple: you come to a venue with your household item that needs repair and with tools provided and volunteers to help, you see if your item can be repaired and then put it back to use.

The goal was to empower people, maintain and pass on skills and most importantly for the purposes of this series, it’s to reduce waste as well, so people aren’t just throwing things out and then buying a new one; they are actually able to keep the items in use for much longer. 

The first ever Repair Cafe was held in Amsterdam in 2009, and within months a Repair Cafe Foundation was established to support other local groups around the world as they set up. Now less than 10 years later, there are over 1500 repair cafes around the world in 33 countries. 

So, I went along to the Ray Bradfield room in Castlemaine (community meeting room). It was full of people: some wanting to get things repaired, repairers looking at things that need repair, two delightful women at the desk at the front to greet you, and some other lovely people in the kitchen preparing food.  Amidst all of this busy-ness I was able to chat to Chris Hooper who had started the Repair Cafe, and I also managed to grab some of the repairers between repairs and see what their experience of it all was.

My first question for Chris was what made her decide to start a Repair Cafe here in Castlemaine in the first place? 

Background noises of people chatting, cups clattering and other sounds of the Repair Cafe. The sound is quite loud at times.

Chris Hooper: I heard about one starting in Bendigo on Facebook. It was just by chance and I found out about it and I thought, “oh great, oh yeah, I’ll come up and I’ll use the machine and blah, blah, blah.” Then I started thinking about it, and thought oh we could have one here! So, I just started it on Facebook, talking about it and then eventually called a meeting. 

And at that first meeting, which was at Run Rabbit, Run Cafe, we had about 14 people I think at that first meeting, and most of them are repairers! Whereas Bendigo had been meeting for 18 months and they have had trouble getting repairers, but also repairers who are available on a Sunday, which is a free day for a lot of people. So, at that meeting, we just said, well let’s just start and see how it goes. And we just started and it’s just gone on from there! 

Allie: What sort of things have you seen? What sort of stories? 

Chris: Oh, someone brought a lawn mower one day—we’re not meant to compete with local businesses and there is a business here for lawnmowers—but she just brought it along and it needed, I don’t know, welding or something like that. So, it was outside and people outside looking at it, and then when she was putting it away in her car there was something wrong with the lift-up bit of the back of her car and someone fixed that! Laughter. It was great!

You know, we’ve had a tent out in the gardens; it is good having the garden here, so a tent and someone was looking at sewing up something, and today we’ve had a woman bring in a repair and then I noticed after she’d had her thing repaired and then she was helping a repairer, it was great. 

I brought in some things today; it’s the first time I brought in things for other people who couldn’t make it today, can’t ever come. So, it was something where the owner wasn’t here. And usually you have people sitting with the repairer. With electrical things, they’re legally not allowed to do it, but they can learn maybe or undo screws or things like that, so you sit with a repairer and watch what’s happening. 

Oh, there was another, a man came one day with…he said, “I want to take up my jeans” and you think oh, one pair of jeans, but he had about three pairs and then next thing—and then he’s up on a chair and he’s having the hems pinned—and then next thing I see Jo is teaching him how to sew on a machine, it was brilliant! So, he sewed his own jeans.

And we have knife sharpening. That’s becoming a regular thing because we’ve now got three people who do knife sharpening who are willing to come. So, we are going to try to keep that going because it used to be, we would have it once in a while and we’d have 20 people turn up with knives, so it’s a lot of work for one person. 

And so: sewing, darning, electrical. Today, we’ve had a puncture workshop, but we had some kids arrive and a friend who has a bike, she just wants to know… get familiar with taking the tyre off and things like that. We usually have someone here who does know about bicycle maintenance so people can just turn up for that.  

Next time we’re having a drill workshop, so the whole Cafe will still be happening, but we have little workshops on the side. So that will be to familiarise people with drills. Then the gardener at Winters Flat (Primary school, Castlemaine) said to me, “oh, Chris, I’m teaching grade five kids to use drills, come on!”. So, we’ve got all these old bits of wood to drill into it, just so people can have a go.

Allie: So, it’s a little bit about teaching people how to use what they’ve got, and it’s also about helping people repair. 

Chris: Yeah. It is ultimately about to save throwing things out into landfill, but also to teach people a skill.

Allie: Do you have a sense of the environmental impact of what you’re doing?

Chris: Oh yeah. Well we weigh…Oh, when you come here, you sign a registration form and you weigh the thing you’re going to have repaired. And so, if it is repaired that’s a record for us of what we are keeping out of landfill; it’s up to about 400 kilos now. So, the people can get more of an idea of what it’s about; to stop people just throwing things away and not thinking “I will just go and get another one”. It is a way to save people money, so they don’t have to go and buy a new thing. 

Allie: So, who are these people who will volunteer their time on a Sunday to repair other people’s objects? First up, I spoke with a couple of knife sharpeners.

 Do you find that most people have no idea how to sharpen a knife properly?

Knife Sharpener 1: Yes.  Laughter. I wouldn’t say no idea, I would say uneducated. Everybody has an idea of how to do things, but you need to be educated to do it well. So, it’s, I think it’s like anything, it’s like cooking, you can either do it—everyone can do it—there are some that do it well, and then they become masters at it and then it becomes a trade.

I’m just a chef. I just learnt out of necessity. I grew up in a butcher shop working as well, so I learned to sharpen knives on big old cinderblocks, they were almost back then. So, the old butchers used to show me how to do it and use the leather strops to finish them.

Allie: So, at the Repair Cafe we’re trying to reduce landfill waste. Do you think that people actually throw out their knives once they’re not sharp enough because they just can’t get them sharp again?

Knife Sharpener 2: Yeah, absolutely, which is really sad. Best thing you can do is buy quality to start with. 

Knife Sharpener 1: You know, 20 years ago, you had to go through a selection of high-quality home shops to find a decent knife. Now you can get them at Kmart for $2. The people are quite happy to buy a $2 knife, use it for a few months and throw it in the back of the drawer and then hard rubbish they get rid of them. But a decent knife, a really good quality knife: the old adage buy well, buy once and learn some simple skills. The simplest skill is learning the degree of the angle and the stroke of sharpening the knife or buy yourself a fancy knife sharpening device, there’s plenty of them that all work well enough for the kitchen nowadays. You won’t be able to hone it to Ben’s skill level. As I said, a good knife sharpener has got a permanent stubble on his arm from testing whether the blade is sharp enough. 

General laughter. 

Allie: And he really does! Laughter. Wow. So, if the knife is sharp enough. It can shave your arm. 

Knife Sharpener 2: Absolutely. You can actually hear it cutting and you can feel it. The practice part is getting exactly the same angle each time you flip it and pass it over the stone. Any variation in that angle, you’re working against yourself really. I’ve got a selection of wet stones that I use as well for my personal stuff, but these are just my run of the mill oil stones. There’s a lot of different companies that produce decent stones, but that one came from a garage sale, that one came from the garage sale; that one I bought new. 

Allie: What’s the difference between oil and wet. So, the wet, I’m assuming it’s just to use water instead of oil on the stone. 

Knife Sharpener 2: As opposed to oil as the lubricant, yep. 

Knife Sharpener 1: We’ll take more steel off the knife if you need to reset the edge. So, a whetstone will… this is more of a linishing style, whereas a water and carborundum will take a lot of metal off to reset the edge on the knife. And then I finish them with a diamond impregnated plate.

Allie: It looks like a grater. 

Knife Sharpener 1: It does look like a grater! Somebody just asked me if I sharpened graters when they looked at it, but it’s just a steel plate that’s impregnated with different grits of diamond, but it’s still not as fine as the block. So, I did a knife before which I thought was sharp and then Ben put it a few passes across his linishing stone, and once again, created some stubble for next week. So, the difference between having the right tools and better tools can make the finished product even easier to accomplish.

Knife Sharpener 2: But it comes down to the skill behind it too. It doesn’t matter how good at all you’ve got if you don’t have the skill behind it.

Knife Sharpener 1: It’s a muscle memory learning what the angle is.

Allie: So, I grew up with the silver stick that had the sort of like a file. I imagine with that, if you’re doing that all the time, it’s really easy to get the angle wrong. With the stone you’re carefully holding the knife and gliding it, and it’s a very smooth, careful process, and the stone itself is on the table, so its not going to move. Whereas with that, that can move and the knife can move.

Knife Sharpener 2: You’ll end up with a convex edge if you use a steel, because every time you touch it you’ve got movement that way and movement that way. So, you are really just knocking the burr of with the steel 

Knife Sharpener 1: So, it’s one or two passes maximum. That’s it, that’s all you do; one or two passes, that’s the absolute maximum. When you have a knife blade it’s an angle of two intersecting lines. And at the very top of that, you have a very fine point and the metal will tend to roll to one side or the other on the edge of the blade, and that’s called a burr and that’s what we look for when we’re sharpening the knife to find out which side the burr has rolled over to. And if you don’t take that burr to straight via a linishing stone or a steel, the knife will never, ever cut sharp. It will always be slightly dull. And that’s where people stop and go “well, my knife is blunt” but it’s not really blunt it just makes it the burrs rolled to one side of the knife, so you just straighten that out.

Once again, it’s education, but we can’t teach them everything right, we got to keep some to ourselves! 

General Laughter.

Knife Sharpener 1: Or else we wouldn’t be masters! and there’s always YouTube: ‘The university YouTube’ has some very good tutorials. 

Knife Sharpener 2: It also has some very bad, bad things. So yeah. Don’t necessarily believe what you see on YouTube. 

But basically, what you’re trying to do is to polish two intersecting lines coming… the more you magnify that, like if you take a cross section of it and magnify, magnify it, it’s always going to have a slightly rounded edge to it, even down to the point of just the molecular structure of the grain and steel. That’s about chasing that angle, basically. All I can say is just practice. 

Knife Sharpener 1: It’s a community service and we enjoy doing it. It’s not hard for us to give a couple of hours on a Sunday once a month and help people out. And if they take something away from it, that they can continue and follow on at home, then we’ve done the right thing, right job. 

Background piano theme music with Allie speaking over the top.  You’re listening to An Environment for Change on MainFm 94.9. And this week I have gone to the local Castlemaine Repair Cafe and I’ve been chatting to some of the people who work there as repairers. Next up, I spoke with some of the women who have got sewing machines at the repair cafe and help people fix up clothing that might be a bit torn or might need altering, and I talk to them about why they volunteer and what sort of things they’ve helped people do.

Jo: I came to the first one and I don’t come to every one but I try to, if I’m around and haven’t got any conflicting activities.

Allie: And what makes you come here? 

Jo: I really believe in it. I think it’s a really enjoyable and positive place. The aspects I really like are the fact that people come together to do things. And I love seeing people working together and I love seeing different ages interacting: so, there’s kids, there’s elderly people, there’s new people in town often, and then there’s sort of older people who’ve been here longer and they’re all getting on. And I particularly loved seeing the guys all sorting stuff out together and being cooperative. And I don’t feel like we see enough of that in our daily lives. We women are often very cooperative and do things in a corporative way, but men often don’t get those opportunities and I think that’s really important. 

And the other really great aspect of it that I enjoy is teaching people new skills. My standout experience was the very first Repair Café and this guy came, who had six pairs of jeans that he needed to get shortened. And by the end of it, he and another person who had turned up wanting to learn how to use the sewing machine; they were both fixing his trousers on my sewing machine both having learned how to use the sewing machine; how to shorten trousers. And I was just sitting there helping them, you know, watching them. And I just felt that those two people went away that morning having learned to do something new and just feeling really good about what they managed to learn to do. And I think that was great. 

So, keeping things out of landfill is great, but, um, I think there’s other really equally valuable aspects to the Cafe. And I see a lot of people come who you could describe as being quite marginalised in different ways. And they seem to like to come here and they always get food and it’s a place just to sit and watch activity. It’s fantastic. 

Allie: Gosh, that was really good. I didn’t have to ask you any questions!

Jo: Laughing…I know. Lots of people ask me why I like it and it just sort of ticks all those boxes.  I think as a social worker, sort of being interested in sociology, it’s sort of, I just love seeing how people tick and how they interact and how communities work. And this to me is the very best example of how community can work. 

And it’s…you know, lots of, some people do put quite a lot of effort into making it happen, I acknowledge that, but it is actually quite a reasonably straightforward thing to do, and I’m not decrying the effort people put in, but you know: we’ve got a room, we’ve got some tables, we’ve got some electricity and we’ve got lots of goodwill, and people prepared to bring their experience and their efforts together to benefit other people. And that to me is the very best of what communities can be. 

Allie: So, you bring your own sewing machine and help people fix their clothing. And you, I also saw you doing some like pinning and adjusting, like some tailoring work. What’s your sewing background? 

Jo: Well, I thought… I’m totally amateur. Um, I learned to sew at school. I remember missing out on sewing lessons because of the subjects I was choosing and really being interested in a sewing machine and how it worked, I think my mum had one.  And then the sewing teacher put on extra classes for us after school and I went to them and I learned how to use the sewing machine and I’ve done that all through my kids’ lives. I’ve had a child, well, I’ve got a grown adult now, but he needs clothes adjusting for him because he’s got short arms and short legs, so, and I’ve always used op shop clothes to my kids. So, I’ve always fixed things up or improve them or made them better. So, I guess I just really committed to doing that. And when people, people often bring things they bought at the op shop and they’re not quite right. And it’s just great to see them in use. 

Allie:  That was Jo, one of the repairs at Repair Cafe talking about why she loves to bring her sewing machine and help people. And for her it’s as much about building community as it is about saving things from landfill. But Lil, another one of the women who volunteers to help people had a different focus. She was quite passionate about the changes that she’s seen in the textile industry over time and what that means in terms of the waste that we produce as a society, 

Lil: The whole industry is driven on popular fashion and mostly things are made out of a fabric that’s not designed to go the distance because it’s designed to be redundant fashion-wise in a very short time.

Allie: Um, do you think it’s still worth fixing those clothes? 

Sewing: Clothes of the nature that are made of synthetics and the…they pill; get little balls of fur on them and so on, then they’re not worth fixing in a way because they’re not looking good anymore and they’re not serviceable, but old fibres are well worth retaining.

Allie: So, linen, cotton and…?

Lil: And wool.  Wool, cotton, linen; quality fabrics are worth retaining. If you’re really looking for fabrics and oddments, trims, laces, elastic, zips, head down to your op shop. Lots of people clear out homes and, on the whole, those little accoutrements of sewing are not wanted and then they end up in the op shop.

Allie: You can sometimes find really nice quality clothes in op shops that just need a little bit of something to make them fit well.

Lil: Uh, yes. Just learning some basic sewing is really good for just making something fit you and you can adapt something you find.  I am the queen of recycling! I came to the sessions thinking that I could offer something that I do have a wide background in, just basic sewing for family. I had the luck of being educated with sewing at primary school, to the extent that I was hand-sewing a shirt by the time I was in grade six, button holes, turned collar and all. I realise now children are not getting that exposure and I’m happy to help other people learn the basics, which this group encourages. It encourages you to guide the person who has brought in the repair on how they can do future repairs. And I think that’s a really good worthwhile part of the project.

Allie: Are you surprised sometimes at what people don’t know how to do in sewing, something that you consider so basic, but they still don’t know how to do it?

Lil: I don’t think I’m surprised.  I’ve been encouraged that it offers a service such as a lady coming with a set of buttons, but then found out she could have done it in the past, but now her eyesight’s not good enough to thread a needle. And then seeing that lady stay on and then have a cuppa. And then another couple of people talking to her and it turned into much more than just this lady needing some buttons sewn on.

Allie: And what’s the most interesting thing you’ve worked on here.

Lil: I’ve been interested to see some men come in and want jumpers fixed that their mothers knitted. And even though they had paint over them and a few other more injuries, they still wanted to hang on to that jumper. 

Allie: So, we’re hearing some lovely tales of people’s attachment to old objects and clothing. And the value that can be found in helping people repair items that have deep sentimental value. Next up, I spoke to one man who had attempted to fix a Mixmaster for someone. And then I spoke to someone who was very new to town and who was in the process of trying to fix that same Mixmaster and they both had different reasons for being repairers at the Repair Cafe.

How long have you been doing Repair Cafes? How long have you been volunteering your time?  

Repairer: Oh, from the inception which was probably nearly a year ago. Yeah. 

Allie: And what’s maybe the trickiest thing that you’ve repaired? 

Repairer: Maybe the trickiest thing is what I haven’t repaired! and someone else is looking at it at the moment, it’s a Mixmaster, yeah, it was very frustrating. 

Allie: Laughs. And what’s your background? How do you have these skills?

Repairer: Well, I was a telephone technician a long time ago, which covered mechanical and electrical. Yep.

Allie: Are you pretty handy at home as well?

Repairer: Um, I hope so. My wife maybe…

Allie: I am sure she appreciates your skills! Laughter. What sort of, I mean, why do you keep coming back to help repair things?

Repairer: Um, just something I like to do. Yeah. Well I just see…I really do care about the environment, but I just see so much stuff that’s thrown out for absolutely no reason or very little reason because there’s a new model come out or yeah, yeah. My coffee machines came from Sunbury recycling yard and there was actually nothing wrong with them, they were just discarded because they were. Yeah. 

Angus: My name is Angus Grattan, my partner and I decided that we wanted to get out of the city. We both grew up outside of big cities but we’d lived in Melbourne for a while. One of the things we really liked about Castlemaine was the feeling that there was such a strong, healthy community here; lots of stuff happening and people organising things and stuff we could get involved in, the Repair Cafe being one of those, I guess.  

Allie: And what are you working on right now? 

Angus: This is a stand mixer for kitchen mixing, I guess, yeah. It just doesn’t turn on, so somebody brought it in to to be repaired. I’ve taken the bottom off and having a go at trying to get at the circuit board with the controls for it and see if we can find a problem there.

Allie: And what’s your background? What makes you feel like you can work on this problem? 

Angus: My background is, uh, originally in IT, but I’ve worked in electronics quite a bit, so I’m not necessarily skilled with white goods, but I understand some of the basic principles and can sort of attempt to repair them safely.

Allie: How many things have you worked on today so far? 

Angus: Four or five at this point, yeah. There was an iPod dock; there was a laptop charger; somebody brought in a pair of shoes, but I don’t know anything about fixing shoes, and a toaster—toasters seem quite common here, I don’t know, I guess they break a lot. They’re also very hard to fix unfortunately. 

Allie: How do you feel about being a part of this?

Angus: Everybody’s been lovely. It’s just a really nice feeling to be with a group of people that are all interested in helping people out. And it’s a good feeling when somebody comes in as a total paperweight and maybe you can do some simple little tweak to it or fix to it, and it goes out being useful again. And it’s going to go and help that person for years to come.

Background piano theme music with Allie speaking over the top. You’re listening to An Environment for Change on MainFm 94.9 and this week I have gone to the local Castlemaine Repair Café, and I’ve been chatting to some of the people who work there as repairers.

Marieanne: My name’s Marieanne Heard. I live here in Castlemaine. 

Allie: What brings you to the Repair Cafe? 

Marieanne: Well, many, many years ago, probably about 50 years ago in Melbourne and people were coming to my workshop; I had a studio workshop for fixing things. And I realize that there’s a need for this. All the years I’ve been fixing things for people in my workshop: I’m an artist, I was a picture framer, a bookbinder, upholstery, ordinary repairer and restorer, I’ve done many, many things in my workshop.

I moved to Castlemaine and was rapt when I heard that this was being started and I couldn’t get here fast enough. So, I’m a fixer and I just believe so strongly in this, in particular for people that live on their own, that don’t know what to do, where to go to get things repaired, and the cost of things now and the discarding is just frightening. 

Allie: So, what sort of things have you fixed here for people? 

Marieanne: Well, I’ve fixed picture frames for people and there’s been several wooden things: a doll’s bed and a few other minor details that I’ve assisted, but mainly I’ve been helping people; talking to them, welcoming them and taking them to where they should go to get things fixed. But I’m hoping more and more people will come in, I’d love to do more repairs on furniture and bookbinding, I love bookbinding! Maybe that will come. 

Allie: What are some things you’ve seen come in here and be repaired?

Marianna: Well, I think it’s exciting that the number…one gentleman came in one day with one of the earliest coffee filters, where it was in aluminium, but it was very, very old and it had the lid on top, the knob was missing and he wanted that fixed. And he walked out with a grin from ear to ear! they fixed it for him.  And the number of people with toasters that they’ve wanted fixed. And I think I mentioned that I helped repair a baby’s cradle that wasn’t rocking properly, but we’re all round it looking at it working out how to get the—it was wooden, home-made—and how it was fixed. And the toys that people have brought in to be fixed.

Allie: So, things often with sentimental value, or… 

Marieanne: Very much so, very much so, but things that people are realising not to discard them and buy something cheaper at shopping warehouses and so on. When they realise what they’ve got at home is much, much better; much better made in particular in the wooden areas, and so on, when you think of the wooden products, the chairs and the upholstery on some of the chairs is appalling, absolutely appalling.

Allie: And it’s not that hard to fix if you know how.

 Marieanne: No, it is not. Oh, I love it. I love my work, and book binding too, the number of books I’ve repaired, I don’t know how many very old magnificent Bibles, they take me a long time to do, but they are beautiful. Why not restore them and keep them instead of discarding them.

Allie: So, we’ve heard quite a few of the repairers talking about why they’re there and what they get out of it and what they’ve seen. People coming in with their objects to have repaired and what it means to the people who have their objects repaired, which is all very beautiful and heart-warming. And I thought I will talk to Chris once more and just ask her what it actually takes to run one of these, how much effort is it and how many volunteers they need. Who’s working behind the scenes to make this beautiful thing happen.  

So how many volunteers does it take to run this? 

Chris: We don’t know from month to month what repairers are going to come. So, people, some people say, “oh, is this happening or that happening?” and I just have to say, “look, you just have to come along.” 

Usually there is two people on the front reception desk, so they help people get, you know, give them forms. We have people sign in so I’ve got a record of how many people are coming. And then there’s Velvet and Elka and myself. I do most of the posters; we’re getting printed some postcards and I organized most of that, and just…oh radio and newspaper, I do all of that. Velvet does all the cooking and then brings it all here and serves people. And Elka, she will help set up all the tables. It varies, but yeah. 

Allie: So, there’s maybe two or three people regularly helping behind the scenes between Cafes, like doing the promotions; doing the getting ready. And then on a single day you’ll have two people at The desk you’ll have up to ten repairers… 

Chris: Marieanne, she helps a lot just directing people to tables and, you know, these two women, I won’t say their names but they’re not spring chickens and they are just wonderful! They are so devoted to their Repair Cafe and they come every time and help out, it’s great. Oh, there’s one on reception and one who helps people with forms and just tries to help organise and yeah, it’s really good. 

Allie: And can you tell me a bit about what you do with the social media and the fixed sign.

Chris: We try and take photo of people with their whatever’s being fixed, so it’s a little like a talk cloud. It’s just something I pinched from the Melbourne Cafe. and we use that in newspapers or on Facebook and it’s just a nice photo of people happily holding their repaired item.

It was started in the Netherlands, so we paid a bit of money for the copyright on their name.  You can only use Repair Cafe and the logo if you’re registered with them. And in the Netherlands, there are about 90 Repair Cafes.  Laughter. 

Allie: And what sort of support have you had from local council and the local sustainability group?

Chris: Well, we are linked to the sustainability group, we are one of their project groups; a waste management group. The council—we got a little special mention for the Australia day awards this year for community event of the year, so we didn’t actually win the big award, but that was really great—so it’s a bit of recognition from the council; someone put our name in. If we get another venue where we have to pay rent, we will apply for a council grant.  But I’m planning when we have our first anniversary party for the Café I want to invite the whole council, try to get them to have a bit more kind of ownership as we are helping in a way keeping stuff out of the tip. 

Allie: And so how much time, on the last Sunday of the month when the Repair Café is on, how many hours is it taking for the actual day?

Chris: Yeah, well, we come here about 9:30 (AM) to set up and then it starts at 10, and probably half an hour pack-up and out. Yeah, so, but it’s very intense, there lots of people, I feel pretty exhausted after each one, but it’s getting easier.

Allie: Chris, one thing I noticed is that there’s some yummy food and tea and coffee here. How does that work?

Chris: Well, most Cafes have tea and coffee, and it’s really…it’s called a café, not because it’s an actual what you think of as a cafe, people sometimes misunderstand that. It’s a cafe, partly because you might have to sit around and wait; if there’s… like last Café we were really busy and we started a numbering system, so people were called by numbers like in the supermarket and just waited for a repairer to be available. 

And we are happy for people to come in and just eat. There’s a couple of people who are sort of down on their luck or whatever and I don’t mind that at all. So, it’s sort of an even broader community thing because it’s not just the environmental thing; it’s really a place for people to come and maybe meet people or just have a coffee and sit around. Yeah.

Allie: And do people pay money? Is everything…? 

Chris: Oh, it’s by donation, so if you don’t want to donate, that’s fine. So, if you haven’t gotten the money, that’s okay. But people are very generous, they put notes in sometimes; it’s mostly we just say gold coin donation is appreciated.

We are looking for a more permanent venue, but at the moment we don’t pay rent because we are linked to the sustainability group and it’s a council venue. But we’d like a big room where we could store things and so don’t have to bring things every time. 

Allie: What do you see as its future? How viable do you think this is for all communities everywhere?

Chris: They are starting up in lots of places through Victoria. I guess in the future, just to keep it going and teaching people about environmental issues and just thinking differently about stuff; to not just consume and consume. So that’s the ongoing thing. 

We’ve had a couple of people come; one person from Maryborough, I think their sustainability group and they just checked everything out and I’ve sent them information how to start one, and someone from the south coast who was visiting someone at Clunes so she came here and made notes, interviewed people, and she started one on the south coast of Victoria, so it’s great. I think it is a new and growing thing. 

Something else I’d like to do is maybe… people have been offering us stuff they don’t want any more, or have it repaired and then for us to take it, but we’ve got no storage. Well, there’s a Cafe in Scotland, they’re going for zero waste by 2020 and Repair Cafes are really happening there.  They have Café ‘Remakery’ and then I forget what it’s called, but a shop so they can sell stuff. So, I would really like to have a place where we could have second-hand stuff and sell it, that we’ve maybe fixed. Oh, and also there are people in Castlemaine and Bendigo…the really, really free market. And I’ve seen it once in Bendigo, I went up to meet them and they have it in a park and they’ve got storage and they just have stuff people give to them and they give it away. So, you can come and donate stuff on the day and come and take stuff, and anything left over they store it for the next one. So, we think we’re going have one of those here in the park next to…on the same day we’ve got the Café, so it’s once a month; it’s the last Sunday of the month. And we’re at the Ray Bradfield room in the centre of Castlemaine. It’s called the Castlemaine Repair Cafe, but it is certainly for the whole Shire, we probably should have called it the Mount Alexander Repair Café. But today we had someone from Macedon and last time we had a woman who drove all the way from Hurstbridge to have her sewing machine repaired. 

Allie: That was Chris Hooper from the Castlemaine Repair Café, which has been running for about a year and a half now.

This series has been brought to you care of a council grant from the Mount Alexander Shire Council. That grant only really allowed for eight episodes and I would love to do a lot more episodes, so if you’re enjoying this series and you want to hear me extend it for a year or so, and talk to so many other environment groups in the region, including farmers and people being active in the community trying to work for change towards a more sustainable future, then jump onto the Pick My Project website and look for Saltgrass: The Podcast.  

I changed the name because I felt like An Environment for Change had already been done by me right now. But also, it’s a name that’s been used a few times and I felt like saltgrass was a nice word. It’s an actual Australian native plant. It can be used to help salinity and erosion and it also brings to mind ideas around salt of the earth people and grassroots movements. So, I thought all of those things combined was a nice symbol for a series that would talk to local people about what they’re doing for the environment and to create a sustainable future. 

So, jump onto the Pick my Project website, you’ll see a lot of other local projects. There’s an awful lot of really great projects available for you to cast a vote on, I think you get three votes. So, if you register on the website, you can have a look through all the projects that are available in our region, so that’s within 50 kilometres of here and you will get to pick three of them. Please think about voting for Saltgrass:The Podcast. Then I’ll be able to do a whole year’s worth of episodes like this, talking to local people about sustainability.

Theme music for An Environment for Change plays.

My name is Alison Hanly. Thanks for listening. Talk to you soon.

Transcription by Robyn Walton

Note: Saltgrass is produced to be heard. Some elements of the podcast may not translate easily to the written word. We have also chosen readability over strict fidelity to the actual words spoken. Human speech relies on tonality, rhythm and emphasis to give meaning to phrases that may seem fragmented on the page. Some mannerisms of speech are also perfectly acceptable to hear, but awkward on the page, eg. repeated words, filler words such as ‘um’ and ‘you know’. As such, we have not transcribed every word and have sometimes altered the text to keep the meaning true, but also be as readable as possible. 

Our transcripts are created using both speech recognition software and human transcribers, and though we do our best to avoid errors they may occur, please check the audio before quoting in print.

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