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A place to drink, rethink and tinker

The Bower is much more than a second-hand goods and furniture shop. It’s a co-operative workshop and resource centre, a treasure trove, a library of books, records, CDs and videos, and, this month, a café too! To mark 15 years of recycling and upcycling (everything from chairs to electric toasters and fashion accessories), the Bower is set to open Sydney’s first Repair Café. Patrons can enjoy a hot beverage while learning new skills in basic carpentry and electrical repairs, upholstery, painting, bookbinding, and so on.

The Bower is much more than a second-hand goods and furniture shop. It’s a co-operative workshop and resource centre, a treasure trove, a library of books, records, CDs and videos, and, this month, a café too! To mark 15 years of recycling and upcycling (everything from chairs to electric toasters and fashion accessories), the Bower is set to open Sydney’s first Repair Café. Patrons can enjoy a hot beverage while learning new skills in basic carpentry and electrical repairs, upholstery, painting, bookbinding, and so on.

Guido Verbist in the Bower Library (Photo: Kat Hines)

Guido Verbist in the Bower Library (Photo: Kat Hines)

Everything at the Bower is done according to four key objectives: reducing waste going to landfill; providing goods at affordable prices; creating employment and training opportunities; promoting reuse and upcycling of preloved goods.

Items are collected from 19 local council areas, with strong support from seven councils in particular – Marrickville, City of Sydney, Leichhardt, Canada Bay, Rockdale, Woollahra and Canterbury. The scope for involvement is growing at a steady pace.

General Manager Guido Verbist exudes enthusiasm for what he sees as “creative and ethical” community work. He brings management expertise from work with Greenpeace International, and significant experience of recycling and related not-for-profit activities in the Netherlands and Belgium. “I’ve only been here at the Bower a short time [Guido commenced as manager in mid-2013], but we have an excellent setup and many opportunities for expansion and development. The staff are excellent,” he says.

Guido continues: “The concept of ‘planned obsolescence’ is so ingrained that most of us have given up even trying to have items repaired anymore – we just leave it out on the pavement for ‘council clean-up’. Drive around during council clean-up and you can observe the disease that is our modern ‘disposable culture’ – streets of broken bits of furniture, electrical items and other once-loved household goods. Many of us are unaware almost all this mountain of ‘stuff’ left out on the street ends up in landfill, and Sydney, like most modern cities, is running out of room.

“The Repair Café will encourage the community to reject this throwaway culture, and foster a return to a culture of creativity, repair and reuse. It will be a place where people can ‘tinker’ again.”

Customer Liaison Officer Sam Worrad, a journalist by training, has been a staff member for three years. “We’re getting more and more items on consignment,” he says, “furniture mostly, but there are no restrictions. Members receive 70 per cent of sales proceeds. It’s a good way to learn and share. Our membership is currently at 170. We’re always keen to welcome new members.”

Prospective members are encouraged to drop in for a look around or to sign up online. Regular newsletters inform members about workshops and opportunities for involvement as volunteers, including leadership roles on various working groups.

“We couldn’t operate without our wonderful volunteers,” Guido says. “There’s a lot that happens here – the repair and sales work, the teaching, as well as support for people referred by Centrelink and Corrective Services – and we need all kinds of help. Volunteers are essential. We need people with IT skills, crockery skills, library skills. Our library has all sorts of material but we specialise in sustainability and ecology resources.” Donations are gratefully received.

Volunteers can expect to be treated the same way as paid staff. “This is important and something we emphasise,” Guido says. “We want to ensure that everyone is motivated. We’re reviewing our governance right now, but certainly, members have a right to their opinions and input. I hope we’re always ready to improve communications and links between members and the Board that oversees the co-op.”

Guido and Sam look forward to imminent changes to the Bower’s layout. “Better display areas will allow customers to see items in their natural environment,” Guido says, “kind of like IKEA, but not so regimented!”

Sam adds: “We want to showcase the quality of the items. People might be surprised how nicely things can be restored. We also have some unique pieces – an old tyre made into a belt, bookends made of old circuit boards. We’d love to stage an exhibition of recycled and unique pieces.”

Guido outlines plans for a restoration and repairs roadshow. “We want to bring expertise and basic tools to community groups, something like we’ve done in the past at 107 Projects in Redfern.” The Bower, in partnership with Curb Collective and Ultimo TAFE, has run courses in upholstery and carpentry at 107 Projects.

The conversation returns, excitedly, to the Repair Café. A successful “crowd funding” campaign has seen more than 50 people pledge over $5,000 to build the café and workshop space. Construction is just about complete and funds are now sought for the establishment and initial running costs. Pledges of support can be made at www.pozible.com/repaircafe.

 

 

The Bower Reuse and Repair Centre Co-op is located at the Addison Community Centre in Marrickville. Contact Sam Worrad: reuse@bower.org.au or 9568 6280; www.bower.org.au.

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