Blog Article

Fixing our relationship with electronics

Fixing our relationship with electronics

February 12 2015

By Charlotte Knight
  • Community Engagement
  • Environment & Sustainability
  • Social Exclusion

With thanks to Restart Project for writing this blog post.

We are a gleeful misfit in the 2014 NT100. Let us explain how. Our audacious mission is to “fix our relationship with electronics”. We believe we are consuming too fast, as electronic waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams. But worst of all, we are getting frustrated and losing sight of the value in the gadgets and appliances we have.

As a London-based social enterprise, we encourage and empower people to use their electronics longer in order to reduce waste through events in communities and companies.

We (two co-founders) had worked cumulatively for 15 years in places where communications technology can make a massive difference – where simple mobile phones can often literally save lives in everyday situations.

People relate with gadgets and technology in a completely different way in most of the places we worked, from informal settlements in São Paulo to rural Kenya, showing a greater sense of control and ownership over technology and resilience in the face of problems. Everything is hackable and fixable.

What was troubling was not actually injustice and struggles of the “underdeveloped” places, but instead the attitudes and behaviours of people here in London. Watching people upgrade by simply buying new phones every nine months.

We started by simply rolling up our sleeves, convening some friends and local organisations, and fixing together in our home communities. Our first “Restart Party” was in June 2012 at a pub in north London and it surpassed our expectations. We did not know how many people would come to fix things, and how many skilled people would help! Both of us instinctually realised that we needed to schedule regular events to recruit volunteers and keep it going.

Since 2012, The Restart Project has run over 70 events in our home communities working with over 1,600 Londoners saving 1.2 tons of electronics from waste, from toasters to tablets. We have 39 active volunteers from all over London and all walks of life. They do not just provide a free fix, they help the owner of the broken device learn from the repair and to consider repair as the first option when something breaks.

We get a very diverse turn-out at our events, from curious white collar professionals, to under-employed young people, a mix of men and women and backgrounds. Probably because we all need technology and there are so many motivations to repair: to save money, to save the planet, to get satisfaction, to learn.

But most excitingly, as we shared our experiences online, people around the world wanted to throw their own Restart Parties.

Just last month we reached an important milestone: other groups (from North Wales to Jerusalem!) have thrown more Restart Parties than we ourselves have. We recently created a Kit to help share the events, which has helped them spread.

Here's what we've learnt about seeding community electronics repair, and what other Restart Party hosts have shared with us. We call our volunteers “Restarters” - and every community is full of Restarters and has the skills to get fixing. Paradoxically too, it is not new technology that helps us locate Restarters. The “early adopter” volunteers are people who use email, maybe once or twice a day. They are not social media addicts. These are people who are already involved in their community, or maybe have a friend who is. Simple, black and white A4 posters are a good way to recruit volunteers. Regular Restart Parties allow shy potential volunteers to drop in and see for themselves, with no commitment.

Our events are always free to the public and we've basically eaten most of the costs from the beginning. We are seeking support from funding bodies to continue our community work, and share our best practice with others. We have been encouraged by some funders to target our events at certain vulnerable groups, but our aim all along has been to foster a radically open space for communities to build resilience and skill-sharing. So it is a real challenge to tell our story, transmit our vision and come up with appropriate ways to demonstrate our impact.

We're not planning on depending only on grants. We are a social enterprise, and we've been working with companies, educational and cultural institutions to bring the resilience and repair into new spaces. We've had a steep learning curve in pitching our services to companies – but with every client and week that passes we are getting better.

In both, we have learnt that bootstrapping and starting out lean helps us learn what works and most importantly what matters. It helps strengthen community and commitment.

We'd like to thank other 2014 NT100 projects – well, we have to mention, iFixit, for producing the repair guides to everything, which we use at all of our events. Also thanks to Freecycle, for unleashing a wave of real-world waste prevention, using quite simple online tools. Freecycle was super supportive of us getting started in London and iFixit has supplied us with the essential tools. And finally, thanks to Global Voices who have encouraged us to write about our global inspirations.

Images courtesy of Restart Project

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