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Repair Cafes in New Zealand and Australia are considering the challenge of attracting enough volunteers to keep up with the growing interest in their repair sessions. A suggested solution is to compensate volunteers for their contribution.

“At the core of this challenge lie a number of contributing factors, such as increased food prices, housing, rental costs and the need to work more in order to make a basic income”, reflects Brigitte Sistig, co-founder of the New Zealand national organisation Repair Cafe Aotearoa NZ. She feels that some aspects of Repair Cafes may require a review.

Compensation for time spent

“In Aotearoa New Zealand volunteers are often acknowledged in the form of a “koha” – a donation”, Brigitte explains. “While traditionally in Māori culture this would have been in the form of food, money is now a common form of koha and is given as a token of appreciation and respect in both Māori and non-Māori cultural contexts. Most Repair Cafes in Aotearoa New Zealand ask participants to pay a koha to cover expenses such as hall hire costs or refreshments, but not to cover the time of the volunteers. It may be good if for instance a coordinator would receive such compensation for the time they spent.”

TimeBank credits may be another way of addressing this issue, says Brigitte. “We have already had conversations with Repair Cafe organisers about accessing TimeBanks.”

In the TimeBanking model, a person with a specific skill can earn time credits for sharing their skills to help other members, then use their credits to receive services that are of value to them. “There are also discussions about working with local Councils to seek payment for repair event organisers and skilled repairers at Repair Cafes, which is currently being trialed.” However, she adds, generally power bills, rent and food bills cannot be paid with timebank credits.

Win-win situation for the environment and the local community

Guido Verbist launched Australia’s first Repair Cafe in Marrickville, Sydney in 2014 and currently runs an eco-business that repairs and recycles bicycles. He recognizes Brigitte’s experiences. “Since COVID 19, Australian organisations are struggling to re-engage their volunteer workforce, and I expect this situation to remain for the foreseeable future.”

Fixing at The Bower Reuse and Repair Centre 

The Marrickville Repair Cafe was part of The Bower Reuse and Repair Centre, which Guido managed for many years. “At The Bower, we decided early on to pay our volunteers to help us meet the growing interest from local councils and community groups who invited us to run Repair Cafes for their residents and members. Councils were happy to cover the cost for our Repair Cafe facilitators. For them, this is a small price to pay to reduce their environmental footprint. The increased number of repaired goods decreases the number of goods they have to process as waste. This is a win-win situation for the environment and the local community.”

In a circular economy, Repair Cafes should be open daily

Despite a strong volunteering tradition in Australia and New Zealand, both Brigitte and Guido think that compensating Repair Cafe coordinators for their contribution ultimately leads to the success of Repair Cafés. “When you offer the facilitators a fee for their services, it becomes much easier to manage the workload and to rely on their availability and the quality of their services”, says Guido. Both he and Brigitte regard the establishment of a paid coordinator role for Repair Cafes an essential step to take. Guido: “This will enable Repair Cafes to meet the growing demand while guaranteeing the required quality standards.”

Both point out that the circular economy is rapidly becoming the accepted economic model of the future worldwide. “Creating a culture and economy that is based on sharing, reusing, repairing and refurbishing of re-integratable materials is the future”, says Brigitte. Guido is convinced that Repair Cafes can be a central part of the circular economy. “There will be a need for Repair Cafes to be open daily, not just e.g. once per month. But that will only be possible when a sustainable financing model has been established.”

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This post has 4 comments

  1. This year MIA is requesting and gratefully accepting donations from those seeking repair advice/knowledge or wanting us to attend their repair events. We are not interested in being formally as we are not a business.

    After many years of volunteering and rarely having our expenses reimbursed, we felt it was time to explore the value of volunteers in the community repair space. As well as the value of repair and repair skills in general.

    Karen and Danny Ellis
    Mend it, Australia

    https://www.repaircafe.org/en/should-repair-cafe-volunteers-be-paid-for-their-efforts/?fbclid=IwAR0vkOQ6goSwwKkO0dsSAKj2O6riMrWr9ZfWDNbZu7pKWp0caf2NgnpTz3E

  2. i think that orgs which have been set up to provide eco options need to consider all implications of “sustainable”. so many run have volunteer labour at their foundation, which is neither sustainable long term, nor ethical. volunteer labour is lost income/time taken away from caring duties… and yet, the beneficiaries are often people who don’t have time to volunteer bc they’re too busy working – & earning $.

    what’s more, i’d like repair cafes to make sure they’re valuing all repair work. i’ve heard of $ being paid for electronics repair, but not textiles.

  3. A small donation is fine, although gestures of goodwill go a far way and open other doors whether it is access to resource, drive change, support down the tract and/or introductions.

  4. Hi there
    I run a repair Cafe over in the North west area of the UK and i often try to work out how to compensate our volunteers as Tea and biscuits doesn’t feel enough! I do try to share fabrics, other skills and ideas with our volunteers.
    I had not heard of Timebank until reading this so thankyou for that!
    I absolutely agree that our communities need a regular repair cafe open for their use but that requires a salaried position to manage the venue, insurance, venue hire or rent payments and that would eat into any funds we have available.
    It would be great to keep this conversation going and share ideas
    Thankyou
    Catherine

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