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Tonbridge Repair Cafe offers volunteer service to fix broken items free of charge

What do you do with a broken toaster? Or with a bike when the wheel runs out of true? Or with a jumper full of moth holes?

Most people would say "Bin it!" but for people in Tonbridge that is no longer necessary.

A busy scene at Tonbridge Repair Cafe
A busy scene at Tonbridge Repair Cafe

Now you can get all those annoying little faults fixed at the Tonbridge Repair Cafe.

The cafe meets monthly at St Stephen's Church in Waterloo Road, where a variety of volunteer repair experts will restore you item free of charge, using their own tools and materials.

Already people have brought along a range of broken items from their homes including angle-poise lamps, hair dryers, bikes, toys and crockery.

The volunteers are willing to have a go at anything except microwaves or anything with a petrol-driven engine.

The service is proving immensely popular with more than 30 people attending the first session.

Dr Norman Taylor of the Tonbridge Repair Cafe
Dr Norman Taylor of the Tonbridge Repair Cafe

Of all the items submitted, the Repair Cafe volunteers fixed more than half, gave advice on how to get the item repaired on around a quarter and were unable to fix only 15% of the items brought in.

The cafe is the inspiration of Norman Taylor, a retired clinical biochemist from Kings College Hospital in London.

He said: "I've always been keen on fixing things from an early age. Then during Covid my neighbours in my street set up a WhatsApp group where we all did our best to support each other during lock-down. Part of that was repairing things that went wrong.

"At the end, I thought we shouldn't just be doing this for our street, we should be doing it for the whole town."

Dr Taylor was put in touch with Chris Murphy, who was already running a repair cafe in Tunbridge Wells, and was delighted to find there was a whole movement dedicated to repairs.

Dr Norman Taylor of the Tonbridge Repair Cafe
Dr Norman Taylor of the Tonbridge Repair Cafe

Soon a committee was formed and a pool of 45 repairers recruited.

Dr Taylor said: "We throw away piles of stuff in the UK. Even things which have very little wrong with them, and which could easily be used again after a simple repair.

"Unfortunately, many people have forgotten that they can have things repaired or can't find a local repairer.

"Repair Café wants to change all that."

Dr Taylor said that the Repair Cafe's "customers" not only saved money, but saved the planet's precious resources and helped to reduce CO2 emissions

St Stephen's Church where the cafe is held. Pic: janetpenny.com
St Stephen's Church where the cafe is held. Pic: janetpenny.com

But beyond these noble aims, Dr Taylor said: "We also want to show just how much fun repairing things can be, and how often easy it is. Our slogan is 'It's cool to repair.'"

Would-be repairers are welcome to sit alongside the volunteers to learn their skills.

Among those attending the first event were Mark Barker, the vicar of St Stephen's Church; Richard Hill, the president of Tonbridge Lions Club, Judd Ward Green Party Councillors April Clarke and and Mark Hood, and KCC Green Party Councillor Paul Stepto.

The cafe has sparked so much interest that the chairman of Kent County Council, Cllr Lesley Game, is planning a visit this Saturday.

Cllr Mark Hood said: "I and my colleagues have been very pleased to have been involved in setting up the Tonbridge Repair Café with Dr Taylor and the other volunteers, so we now have Repair Cafes in each of the West Kent towns of Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells, Sevenoaks and Edenbridge."

Green Party Cllr Mark Hood: Delighted
Green Party Cllr Mark Hood: Delighted

Cllr Hood said: "We are delighted to be involved in something which extends the life of household objects and reduces the number of items prematurely and unnecessarily finding their way to the councils waste streams.

"By promoting repairs, Repair Cafe Tonbridge helps to reduce mountains of waste."

Anyone with repair skills wishing to make a difference in their community by helping to give things a new lease of life, can contact Mr Taylor on 07470 141035 or email tonbridgerepaircafe@gmail.com

The Repair Café concept arose in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in 2009, and was formulated by Martine Postma, at the time a journalist and publicist.

In 2010, she started the Repair Café International Foundation which provides professional support to local groups around the world wishing to start their own Repair Café.

Take your broken item to the Repair Cafe
Take your broken item to the Repair Cafe

Worldwide there are now over 2,300 Repair Cafes and 190 of those can be found in the UK.

There are repair cafes in Faversham, Whitstable, Canterbury, Dover and Ashford.

The next Tonbridge repair session is on Saturday, July 23, from 10am to 1pm.

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