How Our Tool Grant Winners Kept Fixing Through a Pandemic

Man with "Steve" name tag working on a laptop screen.

Back in February, we announced the winners of our $50,000 tool grant, meant to inspire Repair Cafés and other repair communities to expand their presence, online and off. 

At the time, we didn’t know just how different this year would be. Repair groups across the world are dealing with the loss of physical gatherings. If you’re intimidated by the idea of opening up something to fix it, it helps to have some experienced fixers nearby, for encouragement and advice. Does a world-changing virus mean DIY repair is doomed?

We’re happy to report that the answer is a clear no. At first, a shortage of face masks led to an enormous variety of DIY face masks and their repair out there. Then we saw people taking up DIY maintenance in their home, as they were stuck with all the little imperfections they had ignored in busier times. With an uncontrollable panic raging outside, many were desperate to gain control of at least one small corner of their world. It was heartening, seeing so many take the initiative and join forces.

Joining forces is exactly what the 2,000 Repair Cafés, 60 Restart Party groups, and a number of Fixit Clinics worldwide are offering. They help people journey from the small impulse to fix something to success stories. These innovative groups found innovative solutions to stay at your side and help you through your repair or your current needs. 

Here’s how some of our grant winners have continued their fix-the-world efforts in 2020 so far:

Hands using pliers to repair jewelry.

The voluntary community help group “Market Harborough Fixers” in the UK established mini-events with 2 persons as well as a drop-off system. This means residents can contact them via Facebook with details of the items. Once it’s agreed the Fixers can help, a drop-off time is arranged, the item is hopefully repaired and then returned within a week or two, depending on the complexity & or availability of suitable fixers.

Tools laid out on a repair table.

The region of  Westervoort-Duiven in the Netherlands is lucky to have a quite low infection rate. The Stitchting Repair Café was allowed to keep their doors open – however there are fewer volunteers and you can only deliver and retrieve your stuff, you’d not be able to enter their workspace. 

Two repair cafe workers fixing a block round objects

While the typical activities of Restarters Firenze, Italy have been almost completely aborted by the COVID-19 emergency, they’ve managed to organize something new in no time. Fortunately they have a good community around their volunteering association and city representatives, so they are now focusing on refurbishing PCs, laptops, tablets, and phones that were trashed in order to give them to children in need being homeschooled or also adults finding themselves in a new home office environment. This is an outstanding example of hard effort and great results. 

The Restart Project, London worked with the organization Catbytes, which runs a laptop donation scheme and a device library. They brought in their volunteers to fix the donations they received. Read more about this great initiative in their blog post.

Repair cafe workers adjusting drill and Dremel tools.

MetroVan Repair Cafes based in Vancouver, Canada have had the chance to set up an outdoor, socially distanced, by appointment only event in September. Now they are preparing a virtual repair event, as well as a local repair business directory, to help keep repair going until it’s safe to return to regular Repair Cafes.

Antique chair with a broken leg, ready to be repaired.

Repair Cafe Malvern Hills, UK has also been “Keeping Repair Alive” while other Repair Cafes were forced to close. In early May, they launched their “deliver, repair, collect” service, which involves repairers accepting items for repair in their homes. People wanting to use that service can email for guidelines and registration/disclaimer forms. On receipt of the completed forms, their items are added to the waiting list and contacted as soon an appropriate repairer is free.

Most of the team of seven volunteers have well-stocked workshops at home, so they have been able to repair a diverse selection of electronic devices, household and garden electrical appliances, furniture, radios, ceramics, and clocks. Garment repair is suspended for the moment, as those would have to be 100% clean and cannot be sanitized. However their sharpener has provided a weekly sharpening service every Saturday morning.

Working this way, the team has repaired over 200 items during the pandemic already, many people traveling some distance to take advantage of their service. Their appreciation is reflected in their generous donations, and the team has noticed an increase in demand for repairs to possessions of sentimental value, often family heirlooms. RCMH opened eight years ago and the lockdown team has welcomed the opportunity to continue using their many skills and helping people.

RCMH is hoping to be able to maintain this service until such time that they can re-open their doors to the public. They are doing a great job in keeping up the obvious environmental and economic benefits of the Repair Cafe service, however they consider the social interaction to be hugely beneficial for both repairers and repairees, too and are very much looking forward to re-adding the social element to their list. 

Zoom call featuring members of Boulder U-Fix-It Clinic

Boulder U-Fix-It Clinic, Colorado, US teamed up with other fixit clinics and repair cafés around the world to run virtual clinics using Zoom and Discord. They’ve made new friends with repair enthusiasts they would not have met without these global events, so they’ll call that a positive outcome of these challenging times. According to Wayne Setzer, iFixit’s guides for the repair of tea kettles have been a lot in use during the virtual events, and he’d also demonstrated the Manta Driver Kit during several of the virtual clinics to show how to deal with an appliance with “safety” screws such as the triangle head screws found in many of those tea kettles. You can register at (select the “Virtual Fixit Clinic”) and they’ll reach out about scheduling you for an upcoming Virtual Fixit Clinic.

Members of French repair cafe building new shelves for their space.

While the Repair Café de Malakoff, France couldn’t organize a real alternative to in-person repair events, they used this pause to move to a brand new place, La Tréso, a “third place” with various activities (workshops, fablab, culinary, cafe-resto) which will allow new dynamics and interactions. For the moment, they are planning the next Repair café in February.

The Lipor – CREW project, Portugal, did live sessions on Instagram, partnered with a local shopping center. They’re calling it “repara (n)isto” – it doesn’t work well in English, but there is a double meaning in Portuguese: note this/repair this. They also used this quieter time to launch their own website and developed a game/quiz to bring some more awareness about disposability and repair.