Transition Berkeley has cultivated a community of practice that hits close to ground zero – a “culture of repair,” that demonstrates a way to live with more humility, making due with what we have by sharing knowledge and skills, one repair at a time. Repair Cafes harness a library-system supported methodology that touches a diversity of people and interests. The bells that ring on the repair grounds throughout an event celebrates the completion of each repair – and total up to 100 in any four-hour event. Repair Cafes and fix-it clinics produce an excitement not unlike a dopamine-pumped day at the derby with your besties.
This elegantly simple community-based solution draws support from people across all cultural, gender, age and socioeconomic lines and provides a unique opportunity for them to gather, connect, and build relationships. This universal desire to waste-not attracts people of all ages, genders, race, ethnicity, languages, religions, economic status and abilities. Volunteers and paid staff come in to participate as:
- The repair coaches, who offer their skill sets and enjoy sharing their know-how with others,
- The nearby University students, who chip in both technically and as volunteer event supporters,
- The local non-profit groups with veteran organizers like Transition Berkeley, who sustain these efforts over time,
- The general public, anyone with a broken object requiring repair, with time and willingness to problem-solve and learn about repair.
Make no mistake, this isn’t the traditional “drop-it-off-and-we’ll-see-you-later” kind of outfit.
Clients sit with the repair coaches and together they diagnose and work to repair the item before them, building community and skills. To make your visits amply comfortable, Repair Cafes are always blessed with a local bounty of edibles, pizzas, coffee and tea, often donated by local restaurants and markets. But the Cafe also serves as a mingling space where community-members can chat and socialize. Every completed repair is an opportunity to celebrate with the ringing of a bell and a celebratory photo of the repair coach and participant. It’s part Party, with a bigger purpose.
Members of the public requesting that household items be repaired can sign up for an event beforehand online or show up in person on the day of the event. Useful repair tools and materials like duct tape, glues and lubricants, screws, wires and such are on site as a matter of course, in addition to the labyrinth of extension cords that provide each repair coach with lighting and power.
This location-based approach to community-building met its challenge when the pandemic first unfolded in March. Since then, some groups like Fixit Clinics have moved the events online, and its popularity has spread globally. Participants initially share their broken object with a bigger group, and then split off onto designated tables (or if it’s online break out rooms) for further discussion and support from individual repair coaches.
Linda Currie, the co-director of Transition Berkeley, shared, “Transition Berkeley is focused on helping younger people learn about repair. Our current project is to help Cal (U.C. Berkeley) students create an online Repair Training course that can be shared with high school students from Berkeley Technology Academy, a local high school. Repair coaches will be helping with demonstrations and hands-on repair and all of it will be done remotely. We’re hoping students will gain problem solving skills and the ability to fix their own things as well as think about jobs and career opportunities. We plan to repeat this course again when it can be done in person.”