Repair as Regeneration

Repair as Regeneration

Blog for the Wellbeing Economy Alliance

How community repair enterprises model a greener, fairer world

The Repair Stop, a new community repair enterprise, is opening in Glasgow on 21 July. Sophie Unwin, founder and director of the Remade Network, shares her thoughts on how community repair enterprises such as The Repair Stop can provide a model on building a greener, fairer world.

 As the Remade Network launches its new, collaborative community repair project in Glasgow, Katherine Trebeck’s words resonate with me:

 “The economic model that has become so dominant is called all sorts of things: neoliberal, market fundamentalist, overly financialised, extractive, and toxic. What it is called doesn’t matter so much as how it has strangled our imaginations and our sense of possibility.”

We know the scale of the challenge that we face in our world is huge. Oppression, inequality, waste, and pollution are in every corner. Headed in one direction, it looks like an inevitable move to a certain dystopia – where we blindly consume and compete instead of sharing resources and showing empathy to each other.

As bad as things could get, it perhaps allows us to dream big of a better world that we would like to see. But for those of us – like me – who have reached our middle age, our hopes are inevitably tempered with a sense of realism. We have heard new ideas and slogans come and go, from sustainable development to the triple bottom line. And we know that real change can be hard won, as it speaks of shifts to the status quo.

Could a wellbeing economy offer us something new?

“As bad as things could get, it perhaps allows us to dream big of a better world that we would like to see.”

For me, building an economy based on repair skills – the work I’ve carried out previously in London and Edinburgh over the past 12 years – chimes closely with what the Wellbeing Economy Alliance advocates. This is a regenerative economy, one that prevents waste at its source rather than just recycling materials; a collaborative economy where we work with other community groups and Glasgow City Council; and a business model with purpose and shared values at its heart.

In January this year, we started work in earnest with five other organisations: Govanhill Baths Community Trust, Repair Café Glasgow, Glasgow Tool Library, The Pram Project, and Glasgow City Council. Meeting each fortnight, we developed a collaborative business plan, for which the City Council granted us a social enterprise start-up grant.

Then came COVID-19.

With no social contact allowed, we started meeting online and had to pivot our plans. But we also had space to share ideas, discuss our values, and reflect on what was really important to us. From April, Remade Network has grown from three members of staff to seven, and this July we open our new project – The Repair Stop.

Based at Govanhill Baths’ Deep End on Nithsdale Street in Govanhill, The Repair Stop will offer affordable repairs, priced at £5 or £10, and accept donations of unwanted laptops, phones, tablets, and prams that we will fix, redistribute, and sell on.

And, thanks to contracts with both Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Government, we will be distributing 500 desktop computers to vulnerable people across the city. People like Mohamed from the Somali Association, who will ensure the computers help people find jobs, access basic services, and stay in touch with their families. And people like Elaine, a single mum whose son, Maxwell, has struggled to do his schoolwork since COVID, as they don’t have a working computer at home.

The C-40 Cities Climate Leadership Group have recently published some principles about a green recovery, and some of these speak to the project:

  • Excellent public services, public investment, and increased community resilience will form the most effective basis for the recovery

 

  • The recovery must address issues of equity that have been laid bare by the impact of the crisis

 

  • The recovery must improve the resilience of our cities and communities

 

Equity and resilience are so vital here. It is the people who consume the least who are most impacted by pollution and environmental problems. But it is also those people, and poorer communities, who often hold a wealth of creativity and ideas. Poorer communities are already used to being resourceful and resilient.

As the Aboriginal leader Lilla Watson says, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Moving away from extractive to regenerative economies also means valuing indigenous knowledge, the skills and ideas that are already in place when we come to start work on a new project. Without this basic attitude of respect and curiosity, how can we achieve anything meaningful?

We firmly believe that repair can help us build a better world post-COVID and help regenerate forgotten places. It values and draws on people’s skills and creativity, as each repair is different, and it creates new jobs – repairing creates 10 times as many jobs as recycling. Finally, it brings people together and helps build community. Repair is not a new idea, but it is one whose time has come.

As the Wellbeing Economy Alliance reminds us, “Humanity defines economics, not the other way around.” In many ways, this could be a motto for social enterprise as a whole – business and profit is not the end in itself, but a means to harness our core values and create a better world.

 

You can visit the Repair Stop at 21 Nithsdale Street in Glasgow, open 12-2pm Monday to Saturday, from 21 July, for repairs of household items and to donate unwanted and broken laptops, phones, tablets and prams. For more information, email repair@remade.network, visit www.remade.network, or follow @remadenetwork on Twitter and Facebook.