Angie – Sidmouth Repair Cafe.
Building relationships and learning.
“I’m employed by the Salvation Army as a community development manager in Sidmouth. As part of this role, I listen to the community… trying to work out what’s happening, what issues people are thinking about, and seeing if there are places where it chimes with what I’m doing and our vision for our little pocket of Sidmouth. One of the things I’ve been trying to do from when I started in 2016 is the Men’s Shed idea. I just really wanted to do something like that. Not being a man, however, meant that I couldn’t do it myself. So eventually, I put it on the back burner. But it still felt like something important for our community, and a good way of connecting with men and encouraging creativity.
Then one Saturday, my husband and I were in Exmouth at the big traditional church building near the centre. I could smell bacon and coffee coming from the church… and I love that. I feel quite passionately about the church being about community and action, so I went to investigate and discovered a Repair Café. I realised that this is actually what we need… forget the Men’s Shed… this is it. I took the idea and presented it to the Sidmouth community through social media to see if there was any interest. In the end, I pulled together about 8 or 10 people for the initial meeting.
In our beginning stages we spoke to CAG about insurance. That was a big one because it was important for us to go down the route of being a community group, rather than a Salvation Army thing. It was useful having their support and somewhere with people we can chat to. I also feel that maybe we have something to offer to other groups because ours was successful straight away. They can learn from us. We’ve had quite a few different groups come and visit, chatting with us and meeting the fixers. It’s this networking of community groups that has been useful with CAG.
My first motivation is usually community relationships… finding ways of connecting people who often wouldn’t normally meet. But part of that is also skill sharing, and right from the start, I thought that was important for me. That’s the gift that we are all bringing to the table – people giving something of themselves to it. That helped me to realise that actually, it’s not about the money; It’s about people, practically helping each other and giving some love… I just love that. I feel quite emotional because I love how community is encouraging sharing and showing people how they can make a difference in a meaningful way. Generally, we think it’s money that’s valued in society, and it’s seen to be the important thing. But in a deeper way, we know – as human beings – that’s not really the case. That’s kind of a bit buried under the gloss of all that matters… youth, beauty, wealth… all that stuff. In a deeper way, we know that’s not what’s most important.
There’s something about the fixing of things that is kind of healing for us, particularly for the more personal items. People find comfort in this, and I think it’s multi layered. We always try to fix items on the day, so we sit with the person. We never take things and just say we’ll go away and come back… that’s not what we do, because it’s about building relationships and learning. This is the ethos of the Repair Café movement which we’ve always stuck with. For us, it is more than just reducing how much we send to landfill, the project has become remarkably sociable. Some people will come just to have coffee and cake, and when people bring their stuff, there’s conversation, chat, and refreshments. I suppose what I’m doing is creating and hosting an environment that allows people to be with one another.
I also think being our authentic selves is really important. If I’m struggling, it’s okay because the café is an opportunity for other people to give to me, for me to be the receiver. As much as we might not like to, we do need to be able to be vulnerable and to depend on each other. It’s not all about us doing things for people. We haven’t got all the wisdom, and I am always learning from other people. I often think there’s a danger of community groups becoming like a clique. A group needs to have soft fuzzy edges; to be strong in its identity; to know what it’s about and its values; and to allow people to cross over into other groups and have a senseof belonging. I want people to know that they belong. We just need to accept who we are as individuals. We ought to try and create this level playing field where we all realise that we’re the same, and we’re all in this together. Sometimes you might feel you want to take yourself away, if, like me, you are lucky to have had a secure upbringing. But you do belong, and you are part of this story.
My husband Mick was a plumber, and he is retired now. When he was first at work, he was a 15/16-year-old apprentice to an older guy in London who he called Uncle Reggie. Mick had to knock tiles off the wall while Uncle Reggie drank tea and explained what to do. Mick had to prove his worth. They obviously worked together very closely, and Reggie would pass on his skills to him. But during his working life as a plumber, the systems changed; young men and women would need college qualifications if they wanted to be a plumber. So, Mick didn’t have an apprentice during his career, and I feel that it would have made a difference to both his and the apprentices’ life if he had. The old system allowed you to bring your skillset to the surface, where it can be noticed and is worth something. This way of the older person teaching the younger person is now being lost, along with those practical skills that are so important for us as humans.
Mick has now taken on board a young lad through the Repair Café, and he’s changed this lad’s life in an incredible way. He was not going to school because of anxiety and one Saturday morning, someone brought him along to one of our Repair Cafés. He was very insecure and nervous at first, but gradually, he warmed to Mick. Soon the banter started, and Mick would come home and say “ohhh he gave me some backchat today!”. He’ll sit with Mick and fix something, and chat with the person who brought it. He’ll even come up and get tea and coffee, which is big. He’s interacting with people. Now he’s brought one of his mates along who sits with one of the electronics guys. People might think that’s nothing, but I think it’s huge… like a bulb in the winter; it’s growing under the ground, under the snow… no one sees it, but it’s there growing. Then in spring, it’s blossomed, and you can see it. For me it’s those little moments. This lad is finding his feet in the world, finding his place, and learning these amazing skills that his mates are probably – or will be – quite envious of. When he’s 50, one of his children or grandchildren will come and say, “can you fix this?”, and he will. He’ll probably remember Mick teaching him that. That kind of input into other people’s lives is lasting. Uncle Reggie’s legacy is playing out… which is amazing.”