Remade in Glasgow – plans to develop a repair economy in the city and beyond
Written by Sophie Unwin, Founder of The Remade Network
A few weeks ago, I walked down Paisley High Street and within 5 minutes saw eight empty shops amidst betting shops, loan shops and charity shops. Could there be a more urgent time to revive our local high streets? I believe that repair hubs can answer this need by providing a community experience which cannot be replaced by automation or e-commerce.
In November 2018 my colleagues and I were in Lush Buchanan Street launching the Remade Network with the Glasgow Repair Cafe. The Remade Network is a new social enterprise to set up community repair hubs in other communities, following my experience setting up the Brixton Remakery (formerly Remade in Brixton) and the Edinburgh Remakery (Remade in Edinburgh). A repair hub is a place where people can come together to learn how to fix household goods, and a business model where the income from refurbishing donated goods and teaching repair makes the project financially viable.
We had a great evening at the launch with folk from community groups, to local businesses, to research and policy organisations. Repair is not a new idea – the point of Remade Network is to scale it up by condensing 10 years learning for other places.
I was initially inspired by the experience of creating less than a dustbin of waste when I lived for a year in rural Nepal. Coming back to London I felt in shock at the amount of waste we create and launched the concept in 2008 in Brixton at the time of the economic crash. “Why don’t we have a space for our elderly immigrants to teach unemployed bankers something useful?” I asked, and people cheered, at a meeting in the local town hall. A few years later, my colleague Hannah Lewis had persuaded Lambeth Council to gift the project a block of disused garages that could be converted into a series of reuse and repair social enterprises.
By then, I had moved to Edinburgh for a new job, and in 2011 started up Remade in Edinburgh with £60, building it up from a group of volunteers to a social enterprise with £240,000 turnover, 80% traded income and 10 employees, by 2018 when I left. I found firstly a temporary space in South Bridge Resource Centre (thanks to local community worker Nancy Somerville), then a small shop in Guthrie Street (thanks to Edinburgh University) and then in 2016, with expansion funding from Zero Waste Scotland, the bigger shop and converted bank branch in Leith Walk.
By this point, I was studying a Scale Up Course with the School for Social Entrepreneurs. At this time of worsening inequality and climate change, it seems important to increase the impact of our work. After all, we can recycle more stuff and still be creating more waste. And repair doesn’t just prevent waste – it creates ten times as many jobs as recycling. My article in CommonSpace went viral, and enquiries started flooding in. We now have 65 active conversations with groups all around the world and I’ve already undertaken work in Brooklyn, Montreal and New Zealand. We have a partnership based business model and the wider business community is behind us, with organisations like Sugru – who make a mouldable fixing product – supporting our work to promote a wider repair revolution.
Glasgow is the obvious next place for us – a city with the diversity and vitality to embrace repair, and where we are not interested in reinventing the wheel, but in partnering with others to help the city – and Scotland – develop a wider repair economy. Our next step is to find the right space in Glasgow to provide this training.
Please do get in touch if you’d like to collaborate.