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For many years, Repair Cafes were almost exclusively the domain of the elderly. But this seems to be changing. Several Repair Cafes have recently gained younger repairers.

Such as Repair Cafe Utrecht – The Library, in the Netherlands. This Repair Cafe has existed since February 2022 and holds its meetings in the Laboratory of Utrecht’s central library. “Since the start, young people have been coming to us”, says coordinator Bas Defize. “Maybe it’s because of the central location, and libraries attract many young people anyway.”

Young people are very savvy with modern technology

One of the repairers is Bas’s son Niels. “He just turned 30 and studied Industrial Design”, Bas explains. “In his circle of friends, they often discuss sustainable solutions. And those young people are very savvy with modern technology, such as smartphones. That brings something to the Repair Café.”

But older appliances can also appeal to young people, Bas noticed. “I once had a Discman from the 1990s on the table at the Repair Cafe. Then a boy walked up and got all excited about it. So, I gave him some tools and said: go to work on that. He never left. The same goes for a student who came by with a toaster. They enjoy coming here to tinker and learn all kinds of things.”

It helps, Bas thinks, that young people see in his Repair Cafe that they are not the only young volunteer. “That lowers the threshold”, he says.

At Repair Cafe Utrecht – the Library, young people have been coming in from the start

In a Repair Cafe with mainly people over 60, rejuvenation is an important issue

So, for Bas, the younger generations’ enthusiasm for the Repair Cafe is entirely normal. However, things are different for Joost Veldhuizen, a repairer at Repair Cafe Houten. At 49, Joost is one of the younger repairers in Houten. “Most repairers with us are 60-plus; we even have some people older than 80”, Joost explains. “So, you’ll understand that rejuvenation is an important issue for us, for continuity and expansion of knowledge.”

Repair Cafe Houten has actively sought younger repairers for quite some time. “But since a few months, one after another has suddenly joined. So, in a short span of time, we have gained a thirty-something, two forty-somethings and two fifty-somethings. Not super young, but younger than our average.” With their experience and skills, Joost says the new repairers are a valuable addition to the team.

Whether the energy and cost of living crises are currently helping to get people moving, he dare not say. “Our new volunteers say that they just enjoy making repairs and they like helping others. Furthermore, they want to do something against the throw-away mentality.”

Actively appealing to younger audiences

Repair Cafe Amsterdam-West in community centre Jeltje is also getting more and more younger repairers. Around five of the 25 repairers are younger than forty, says organiser Robert Riede. Repair Cafe Jeltje has long been actively appealing to younger repairers and visitors. “We do a lot of image building. We are active on social media, and our website has a youthful look. Also, it’s no coincidence that the first thing you see at the top of the homepage is a picture of a bold, young woman making repairs.”

At Repair Cafe Jeltje in Amsterdam-West, around five of the 25 repairers are younger than forty

Robert sees the current influx of new (younger) repairers partly as a response to the mandatory social distancing during the Covid pandemic. “At a meeting of several volunteer organisations, I heard that more organisations are currently seeing an increase in applications. The explanation was that after Covid, many people had developed a desire for new contacts outside work, neighbours and friends. This certainly applies to young people as well.”

For example, Robert recognises this in his college-age daughter. “She desired connection during the lockdowns. Now she is an enthusiastic volunteer and bakes cakes and biscuits with a woman with dementia in a care home. Both my daughter and that woman have blossomed immensely as a result.”

Open and socially safe environment is a key success factor

However, Robert’s experience is that retaining young volunteers for a long time and getting them to commit to the team is challenging. “Sometimes someone comes in very enthusiastically but then disappears again after a few visits”, he says. To avoid that, the volunteers actively work to create an open and socially safe environment. “That’s a key success factor.”

At Repair Cafe Jeltje, for instance, there is always someone behind the bar to chat with waiting visitors. Drinks and biscuits are complimentary. “My co-organiser Johan always walks around and watches out for people looking lost. He then speaks to them to put them at ease. He makes jokes, is interested, and keeps an eye on whether the repairers are at ease. That is certainly not always a given.”

Robert Riede would like to see the diversity of his neighborhood reflected more in his Repair Cafe’s team

Robert hopes to attract more young people to Repair Cafe Jeltje in the near future. “But also people with a different gender or cultural background. I would love our team to reflect the neighbourhood; Amsterdam-West is incredibly diverse. You don’t see that reflected so much in our team yet.”

Robert does not know why that is exactly. “I’m not a community worker, social worker or personal coach. The best tool I have is myself. My stance is not to turn anyone away who wants to volunteer.”

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