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Green Church Showcase: United repair church

05 November 2021

Broken objects from everyday life have led to an awareness of God’s creation

Clients and volunteers at the repair cafe at St Andrew’s United Reformed church, Cheltenham

Clients and volunteers at the repair cafe at St Andrew’s United Reformed church, Cheltenham

“INITIALLY, it was just going to be a venue. But it’s become more than a venue. Now, it’s a real partnership between the church and the rest of us.” Dave Entwistle smiles as he emphasises the strength of the bond between his sustainability charity Vision 21, and St Andrew’s, a United Reformed church in the heart of Cheltenham.

Five years ago, his charity was keen to set up a repair café. It had gathered a team of volunteers, formed a partnership with the council’s waste team, and brought the university on board to help out, but couldn’t find anywhere to host the event. But, when it approached St Andrew’s, it found not only a willing host, but a community keen to join the journey.

It was something that the congregation had hoped to start itself, but lacked the expertise, Cathy Drummond, from the church, explains. “So, when we were approached by Vision 21 to do the repair café, that was a very easy ‘yes’ for us, because we’re an eco church, and it fitted in very well with our sustainability agenda.” Ever since, the project has gone from strength to strength.

Today, on the first Saturday of the month, about 50 people bring in something broken from their homes to be fixed. The volunteer repairers have a roughly 80-per-cent repair rate — whether the item is a torn dress, a faulty computer, a blunt kitchen knife, or an ancient toaster that no longer works.

At first, the café attracted older people, who brought items of sentimental value which no longer worked — things that had little financial value, but were hard to repair. But, as the word spread, the crowd has got younger, and a broader range of everyday household goods arrive to be assessed, sorted, cleaned, and fixed.


THE repair café asks only for the cost of any parts to be covered, plus a small donation, although repairs are free for those who are genuinely on the breadline. And, besides serving the community, it has made an impact on the congregation of St Andrew’s, Ms Drummond says. “We’ve been very clear in our explanations throughout about why the repair café is such an important part of our outreach.”

Everyone now understands the importance of looking after God’s creation and stewarding resources wisely, she says; but it has also helped to bring new people into the church building, where they can build relationships with the church members who make drinks and serve cake while repairs are under way.

The benefits have gone beyond church outreach and minimising landfill waste, Mr Entwistle says. The café is also fostering community cohesion and tackling loneliness, as regulars come in each month to make friends, and had a place to talk. “That’s a real bonus to the café,” he said.

Some of the repairs have also made a significant impact on individuals’ lives: one woman brought in a food processor that she had had for 50 years, and recalled making cakes with as a child before her mother died at a young age. After the gearing was replaced, and it was returned to good as new, the owner was left in tears, Mr Entwistle remembers.

“The woman was ecstatic about it: she was in tears because it brought so many good memories back about her mother.”

One of the volunteers, who has to work as a full-time carer for his infirm wife, told Mr Entwistle that his occasional trips to the café to fix people’s broken goods have been the highlight of his month. “When he gets the opportunity, he loves it. He says he can’t get enough of this place: he wishes he could come here more.”

Ms Drummond says that she could not recommend the experience enough to other churches, as long as they find the right organisation to partner with, which is key. “It works its way into our church life as well, now. We look at a thing when we need to replace it and say, ‘Actually, can we repair it? What are the alternatives to just getting something new?’”

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