A glimpse into NIRN’s Repair & Reuse ‘Conversation Café’

Conversation Café 

As part of our NIRN Members Networking Event, we hosted a Conversation Café to allow groups and individuals to exchange ideas and share learnings from the past year. 

The conversation, which was facilitated by Rosalind Skillen, explored areas of risk and opportunity. The Conversation Café began with some reflections on the state of the reuse and repair sector. Is the sector adequately prepared for the scale of change needed to achieve ambitious climate targets? As it currently stands, the majority of delegates felt like the sector was making use of a good network of skills and that a range of ideas were being tried – even if individual efforts could be better joined-up. There was agreement that the sector is effectively facilitating information exchange, knowledge sharing, skills development, and promoting ideas of togetherness. Of particular note were sectors related to repair and reuse for bikes, electrical equipment, and textiles. Engagement in schools is working well, and educating young people about the environmental impacts of fast fashion is one of the strongest areas of opportunity. There was consensus among delegates that the network is in a strong position to capitalise on increased awareness about reuse and repair, and that there is an appetite, popularity, and willingness among the public to trial new solutions. Delegates also agreed that the network has a solid understanding of barriers to reuse and repair, and that the direction of travel among like-minded organisations is similar. 

Where communication has informally begun across NGOs, local authorities and government, it emerged that there is a strong need and desire to share best practice in a more democratic, ‘horizontal’ way. Community-led organisations, in particular, felt like they needed stronger links with local councils and government authorities. Developing collaborative networks was one of the cross-cutting themes in the discussion, and delegates considered new ways of patiently and respectfully engaging across sectors. Some ideas included hosting more events which successfully brought activists and community leaders into dialogue with industry experts and government officials, like the NIRN Members Networking Event, and deliberately bringing together different sectors, like Health and Environment, to scale the impact of potential projects. Where community-led organisations can feel ‘left behind’, the government should make an increased effort to inform the public on new policies related to reuse and repair, and proactively engage communities in consultations to improve participatory modes of learning. Delegates agreed that further effort should be made to share best practices beyond our ‘echo chambers’, and that knowledge from policy experts and industry leaders could be better utilised.

In the discussion, volunteer recruitment and lack of funding were raised as two prominent barriers faced by community-led organisations. Although the people energised around reuse and repair are highly passionate, they are also small in number. Therefore, there is a need to build a movement of volunteers, menders, fixers and makers to ensure that responsibility and workload does not fall on the shoulders of one or two volunteers in an organisation (this is currently the case). Community-led organisations also voiced a reliance on funding streams, and felt that project ideas were currently restricted by stringent funding requirements. The community sector is ready to take risks and embrace niche ideas around reuse and repair, but funding criteria limits their capacity to fully innovate and develop creative projects. 

Going forward, delegates agreed that we must continue to mobilise climate action, reuse and repair on an individual and collective level. Actions include: introducing measures to support behaviour change, accurately measuring carbon reductions across sectors, pushing companies to move along the waste hierarchy (from recycling to reuse), increasing public knowledge about waste, and proactively talking about (and mainstreaming) degrowth. Harnessing the potential of innovative technologies and further leveraging the power of social media to share reuse messages, particularly among younger generations, were identified as two important actions. On a government level, we need to see stronger policies which legislate for local manufacturing, and it was also noted that NIRN should make a concerted effort to attract charity shops to the network, and help them to prepare interventions with others to become part of the change. Finally, although it is important to stress the urgency of the waste problem and climate crisis, delegates also agreed that we must make an equal effort to share and promote ‘good news stories’. Talking about what has worked well and learning from successful environmental projects scales collective impact, creating a pathway to follow. As one of the delegates remarked, these good news stories in the network are ‘endless’. So, let’s make some noise.