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'If we can fix it, we will': The Fixing Factory, where broken appliances get another chance

Dermot Jones at the Fixing Factory in Camden fixing a toaster and a lamp

The Fixing Factory is permanently based in Queen's Crescent, Camden. (Image: Michele Theil)

When something breaks, most people just go out and replace it. Whether that’s a kettle, a toaster, or a lamp – there’s always a shop on the high street or an online retailer willing to sell you a new one.

The cost of replacing these items can be immense, both to your bank account and to the environment. That’s where the Fixing Factory comes in.

The Fixing Factory is a community repair hub which aims to give appliances and technology a new lease of life. 

“Our whole remit is to bring back the old-fashioned repair shop as a community initiative on a high street,” Dermot Jones, the Fixing Factory’s resident fixer told the Big Issue, with the aim to keep as much “out of the waste stream” as possible.

The Fixing Factory is a natural byproduct of “throwaway consumerism”, Jones said, which he believes encourages people to always buy a new item when something breaks instead of finding a way to make it last a little (or a lot) longer.

“The UK produces so much electronics waste and we really need to find a way of reducing that because it is a climate disaster,” Jones said.

According to carbon-focused think tank The Shift Project, electronics waste generates nearly 4 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, while climate charity Possible estimates nearly 80 per cent of broken electricals could be repaired instead of being thrown away.

Jones, who has been tinkering with and fixing things his whole life, said that the Fixing Factory is simply a stop-gap solution for this level of consumption:  “Longer term, we need behavioural change and to make it desirable for people to fix and upgrade older items rather than buying something new.”

“We need to be moving to where a toaster not just lasts three or four years, or even ten years, but could become a family heirloom,” he said.

The UK is one of the largest producers of electronics waste in the world. Nearly two million tonnes of electronics and electrical equipment was purchased in the UK in 2019, of which nearly one-third ended up as waste – this works out to 23.9 kilograms of electrical waste generated per person.

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Jones is currently the only full-time member of staff at the Camden-based Fixing Factory but he is supported by a rolling team of volunteers who help to fix the items sitting on the branch’s overcrowded shelves.

Repair centres have been popping up across the country, and more and more people are learning to sew, darn, and restore existing items amid an ongoing cost of living crisis. The Camden Fixing Factory opened following the success of another repair hub in Brent – the only difference is the Brent hub solely focuses on laptop repair while the Camden hub is more of a free-for-all.

“If we can fix it, we will,” Jones said. People can bring their broken electrical items into the Fixing Factory to be repaired every Thursday, but Jones is eager for the factory to expand in the future.

“Our strapline is ‘a fixing factory on every high street’,” he said. “But it doesn’t even have to be on a high street necessarily. What it needs is to be in every community. It needs to be accessible. There’s a real value in being local so people can visit whenever they need to and with ease.”

volunteer Enrico fixing speakers at the Fixing Factory
People can drop their appliances in to the Fixing Factory every Thursday. (Image: Michele Theil)

Sebastian travelled all the way from Elephant and Castle to the Camden Fixing Factory to fix a 50-year-old lamp on Thursday. He told the Big Issue that he thinks the initiative is “incredible”.

“I could wander into John Lewis and spend £50 or £100 on a new lamp but it would be such a waste of the old one,” he said. “I’d rather recycle and repair this one, which also has sentimental value because it was my mother’s before it belonged to me.”

“The Fixing Factory knows exactly what they’re doing and they’re doing an amazing job in making sure that things don’t automatically get thrown away just because it stops working,” Olly, another Fixing Factory customer, told the Big Issue. 

Olly, a Camden resident who brought a set of speakers to be fixed, said that he tried to repair the speakers himself but any instructions he could find online were vague and “impossible”, bringing into sharp focus the level of repair information people in the UK have access to.

Legislation that came into force in March 2021, called the right to repair, forced manufacturers of white goods such as washing machines, dishwashers, and fridges to make repair information and spare parts available for professional repairers as well as ensuring that all appliances are dismantled easily using conventional tools. The law does not apply to smartphones, laptops, microwaves, or tumble dryers.

Jones believes the right to repair law needs “more teeth” and should force manufacturers to “bring down the barriers to entry in terms of repairing” those items.

“They could help us in one fell swoop by giving us those designs and diagrams so we can fix it easily. The government should make sure that information is accessible. They can legislate for that and make repairing a more attractive proposition for consumers and for repairers too,” Jones said.

Jones said the fixers spend a lot of time trying to “diagnose” the issue with appliances simply because they don’t know what individual components are in each item. The capacity of the Fixing Factory could expand if the right to repair law was strengthened, he said.

According to Jones and his customers, the Fixing Factory is providing a valuable service by fixing things for people. But what about those who want to fix it for themselves?

Research by Repair Week found over two-thirds of Londoners want to learn to repair things to save money and nearly half of Londoners have already done so using online videos or workshops.

“With the cost of living and climate crises, it makes sense that there is a growing appetite for learning to repair and upcycle rather than throw away,” Rebecca Child, Repair Week campaign manager, previously told the Big Issue

The Fixing Factory is no stranger to this appetite, having already introduced a “repair club” every Tuesday evening, where anyone who is interested can learn about the technical aspect of repairing and practice on a number of appliances. 

Fixing Factory storefront
The end goal is to have a ‘fixing factory on every high street’, according to Jones. (Image: Michele Theil)

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Jones said that people at the repair club might even become future volunteers at the Fixing Factory. The first rule of repair club is that you “absolutely can talk about repair club,” Jones joked.

It’s about “social repairing”, he said, and teaching people the skills they need to maintain and fix everyday electronics.

The Fixing Factory is plugging a “gap in the market” by providing resources and training, he said.

“It’s that education that is needed,” he added. “People won’t know that they can save money and cut down on waste with a bit of time and a screwdriver if no one tells them about it.” 

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