Sophie Unwin: Remade in Edinburgh, and the vision of creating a network of community reuse and repair centres

Sophie Unwin of Remade in Edinburgh on how learning to repair and reuse benefits the community. Remade in Edinburgh teaches repair and reuse skills, and sells recycled and upcycled IT equipment and furniture. You can vote for them for Social Entrepreneur of the Year here

BREXIT, Trump, Trident, the third Heathrow Runway… for those of us who believe in progressive social and environmental values much of 2016 has felt like being in a very bad dream. Facing up to climate change has never been so urgent, and yet the UK Government are closing down the department of climate change and openly engaging in xenophobic rhetoric. I’m sure I’m not the only one who wants to wake up to something different.

And the story of creating Remade in Edinburgh, which is a social enterprise to teach computer, furniture and repair skills and campaign for zero waste, is for me part of that alternative vision: one that creates green jobs, and fosters inclusion and community at its heart.

For me the inspiration of starting Remade came from the experience of living for a year in rural Nepal. In this year as part of a household of six people we created less than a dustbin of rubbish in a year. We reused all our containers, bought vegetables unpacked from the market and if our precious stove ever broke down, we would go and get it fixed.

It struck me that people with useful fixing skills, like the elderly man who fixed bikes in his front garden, should be more valued for the work they did.

Coming back to Brixton, in London, I got reverse culture shock when I went into a supermarket and saw 20 different types of coffee. It struck me that people with useful fixing skills, like the elderly man who fixed bikes in his front garden, should be more valued for the work they did. And this seeded the idea for creating a reuse and repair centre, with a business model of repair education.

In Edinburgh we started in 2011 with £60 and a group of volunteers. Now in 2016 we have 10 employees, 20 volunteers and over 10 freelance tutors. Two of our employees are from other European countries. Sotiris, from Greece, and Mario from Italy have helped build up our computer business and allow us to provide jobs for the rest of us who come from Scotland and England. Immigrants don’t take our jobs, they create our jobs.

In the last year we taught over 1,000 people repair skills from upholstery to computer repair.

In the last year we taught over 1,000 people repair skills from upholstery to computer repair. We charge on a sliding scale: offering a free weekly repair surgery at our new base, the Edinburgh Remakery in Leith, and charging companies and other organisations to go to them to deliver repair training. In the last year alone we’ve tripled our diversion of waste from 70 tonnes to 250. This is partly thanks to a partnership with local charity CHAI, and in return for them providing us with furniture we’ve helped them retain two jobs and continue to provide free furniture to vulnerable people across Edinburgh.

We had funding to open the new centre from Zero Waste Scotland and Edinburgh Council, which has been invaluable, but we receive over 50 per cent of our income from business activities, and are on track to increase this to 80 per cent by 2018.

You can vote for Remade in Edinburgh for Social Entrepreneur of the Year here and by text by sending SEYA Sophie to 67076 until 5pm on Friday 28 October

Right now, we’re up for an award – down to the last 5 projects in the UK - and are asking people to take a few seconds to vote for us online. If we win we’ll receive £10,000 to start working with other communities to share our model. Local authorities could really get behind this vision as they save money in landfill tax costs and in meeting employment targets.

Local authorities could really get behind this vision as they save money in landfill tax costs and in meeting employment targets.

Repair isn’t a new idea – a culture of make do and mend was prevalent in other generations and still is in other cultures. But we need to bring it back into the mainstream, and make it more popular to learn to fix things than opting for a shiny new disposable upgrade. We need to think more holistically about the resources we use, where they come from and where they go to. There are huge human costs to continuing to use more and more stuff, for example the abnormally high levels of lead in Chinese communities that live next to electronic waste dumps.

Last weekend I was at a repair workshop with one of our fantastic volunteers and freelance tutors, Vimi. Vimi also volunteers with the Samaritans and she spoke passionately about how being part of Remade is good for people’s mental health. Being part of a community of fixers makes people feel good. What’s more learning to fix things is fun: it stimulates the brain and makes people feel more confident and resourceful, as well as saving money.

Being part of a community of fixers makes people feel good. What’s more learning to fix things is fun: it stimulates the brain and makes people feel more confident and resourceful, as well as saving money.

I tell this story because as the founder of the project I get most of the attention – and the award we’re up for is called Social Entrepreneur of the Year. But the team of staff and volunteers that are the heart of Remade in Edinburgh: we’re embedded in the community. Just as much as being a practical project, we’re a community campaign for things to be built to last in the first place.

These days, we see similar kinds of initiatives springing up all over the place, from tool libraries repair cafes to Sweden’s recent decision to abolish VAT on repair activities. There’s a renaissance in an economy based on sharing and repairing, rather than single-use disposal.

Please get in touch if you’d like to know more, and please take 20 seconds to vote for us to help make this possible.

And it’s a no-brainer, studies such as Demos’ ‘Creating Wealth from Waste’ and US organisation ifixit.com have shown that repair creates 10 times as many jobs as recycling. It makes more sense too: because increasing recycling overall doesn’t necessarily mean that waste will be reduced: we need to prevent it first.

In the last few months we’ve had numerous enquiries from other communities: Dumfries, Mull, Glasgow and York amongst them. We’d love to go and work with them to share this model, and it feels more important than ever to have a model of regeneration that communities can really get behind. Please get in touch if you’d like to know more, and please take 20 seconds to vote for us to help make this possible.

Pictures courtesy of The Edinburgh Remakery

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