For four hours one Saturday last November, the Vancity community room at The Junction Shopping Centre was buzzing with activity as locals participated in a ‘repair café’, fixing a wide range of items otherwise destined for local landfills.
Janet Chalmers, a local resident and member of Building Resilience in Mission, says it all started when a few passionate individuals began discussing the concept of a transition town—a self-sustaining, supportive community that is prepared to care for each other in the event that a natural disaster strikes. The group meets regularly to discuss the environment, politics, and sustainability.
It launched its first repair cafe in July, with a second soon after at MissionFest in August. Saturday’s gathering was the third in a meet-up that’s gaining momentum.
More than a quick fix
According to organizers, repair cafés support Mission residents, while also preventing unnecessary waste.
“We had a guy here whose broken blender has been sitting on the shelf for years,” said Chalmers. “And all these Christmas lights would be in the landfill.”
In a few short hours, the group repaired more than 15 items, including a vacuum cleaner, a record player, a backpack zipper, a lamp, a remote-control car, and of course, several strings of Christmas lights.
On multiple occasions repair volunteers teamed up, such as the small machines specialist and seamstress who worked together to fix an uncooperative sewing machine. Each time someone completed a repair, a volunteer rang a bell, and the whole room erupted in applause.
While organized by Building Resilience in Mission, the November 30 event was also supported by United Way of the Lower Mainland’s Hi Neighbour initiative, which encourages people to foster connection in their own local communities. Hi Neighbour is currently active in eight communities across the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley, including Cedar Valley in Mission.
Fix it… and say Hi Neighbour!
The goal of United Way’s Hi Neighbour initiative is to combat social isolation and to foster a strong shared identity among residents.
According to a survey released earlier this year, almost half (46%) of B.C. residents say they sometimes feel lonely. The same study found that while Vancouver is home to the highest proportion of people who report a strong sense of connection to their city (39%), people in the Fraser Valley report the lowest (27%).
However, people in the Fraser Valley are more likely to volunteer in groups several times per year (21% of that population) compared to the B.C. average (13%), illustrated well by the strong volunteer response to the repair café.
“We know loneliness and isolation are growing concerns, but we’re also finding unique solutions right here in our communities,” said Andrea Dykshoorn, a community engagement specialist with United Way of the Lower Mainland.
“It’s inspiring to see creative community-building efforts from groups like Building Resilience in Mission, and so many other groups and individuals. We’re here to provide resources and help people make connections to strengthen the great work that’s already underway.”
“And if there’s a Cedar Valley resident who wants to talk through a potential idea, we’re here to help them too,” she added.
The repair café returns to the Vancity community room at The Junction, fixing items for free, on March 7, 2020.
Live in Cedar Valley? Learn more about Hi Neighbour at uwlm.ca/cedarvalley.