Volunteers are finding that it is not only the vacuum cleaners, furniture and jeans that are being repaired at a new social enterprise in Sheffield, but their own levels of confidence, wellbeing and sense of purpose.
Reyt Repair opened in Abbeyfield Park House in October 2022 as a volunteer-powered repair shop helping the owners of broken things where before it may not have been cost effective or made economic sense to get something repaired.
Fixing electricals, furniture and clothes, for £10 if it’s a simple fix, or £20 per hour if its longer, volunteers are gathering in Pitsmoor with screwdrivers and sewing machines to tackle repair jobs, and at the same tackle bigger issues such as the cost of living crisis and environmental concerns for a throwaway culture where gadgets are just not designed to be repaired.
So far, amongst the everyday items, some objects brought in for repair wouldn’t be out of place on the BBC’s The Repair Shop, including a chair from a 1920’s Paris cinema, a sewing machine from the 1800’s and a Tiffany lamp to the war papers from 1890.
Gareth Coleman, the founder of Reyt Repair, has been repairing computers for years and has seen similar ventures and repair cafés popping up around the country. His social enterprise is based around harnessing the time and skills of volunteers.
Gareth, who has also held volunteering roles himself, said: “There are no repair shops anymore on the High Street. Most repairs are uneconomic, hence the reason why we use volunteers.”
But Reyt Repair needs more volunteers if it is to become sustainable. “Anyone who is skilled and wants to help,” Gareth says. “Retirees, men who want to get out of the house, asylum seekers who are waiting on a claim, the under-employed, anyone with skills or hobbies that can be put to use.”
As well as the actual fixing and mending, Reyt Repair is also focused on the social side – gathering in the community hub, the training, workshops and sharing of skills.
Loathed to turn away a prospective fix for a customer, Gareth adds: “It is very rewarding. Sometimes it is a real puzzle where reality has thrown down the gauntlet.
“I enjoy the puzzle of fixing, and when you add that to helping other people, there’s a kind of multiplier effect. Saving people money, saving the environment.”
The volunteers value the opportunity too, often being revalidated for their skills.
Volunteer John, whose career began as an electrical apprentice and saw him working as an engineer at Abbey Road Studios, said that coming to Reyt Repair was all about boosting his confidence. Looking up from fixing a Braun cassette deck, John said: “This is my therapy. It gives me something to get out of the house for.”
Reyt Repair has received support from the Social Enterprise Exchange project which promotes social entrepreneurship and provides support for start-up and established social enterprises through grants, mentoring and specialist advice. The consortium has worked with over 1,000 social entrepreneurs and social enterprises over the last five years in South Yorkshire and the Sheffield City Region.
Social Enterprise Exchange is part-funded by European Regional Development Fund 2014-2020 and The National Lottery Community Fund.
Fired up with an idea and having undertaken lots of research, Gareth gained from going on Social Enterprise Exchange workshops. He said: “I found it pretty validating and it helped to develop the structure of the business. I enjoyed the networking too, learning about others. And the business experts were really “on it” – bang, bang, bang, with information and advice.”
Future plans for Reyt Repair include taking on a community tool bank, running more workshops to teach people basic repairs, having a co-ordinator to look after the volunteers, and launching an online shop to sell repaired donated items.