E-waste reuse and repair project showcased as exemplar community initiative

The Fixing Factory, a community reuse and repair project recently opened in Brent, has been featured in new climate action podcast ‘Carbon Copy’, which showcases ‘big-thinking, local climate action’ and encourages communities to follow suit.

The Fixing Factory repairs unwanted and broken laptops and tablets, giving them to people without digital access. A training programme is offered for people of all ages and abilities on how to build a computer, followed by five weeks of work experience in repairing and refurbishing laptops and PCs.

The project also runs monthly diagnostic sessions, enabling the public to take their laptop for check-over and repair. Anyone who wishes to learn how to repair laptops can train to be a volunteer fixer.

Fiona Dear, Co-director of The Restart Project, explained how The Fixing Factory will be scaling up in the coming months: “We’ll be running a ‘roadshow’ – holding fixing events in nearby towns, and inviting people to get involved.

“Our partners, MerIT are about to start an affiliated course, teaching 10 young people how to fix laptops, we have some IT specialists visiting for a work-volunteer day and we’ve been approached by a number of sixth-form students about doing work experience over the summer.”

The Fixing Factory’s aim is to have a project on every high street and in every waste facility in the UK. The project is a partnership between The Restart Project, West London Waste Authority, Ready Tech Go, and Possible, and was funded by the National Lottery Community Fund.

West London Waste Authority provided a site for The Fixing Factory in their Abbey Road Reuse and Recycling Centre in Brent. In 2022, this site, alongside a further one in Camden, will be developed as a pilot project. Dear told Resource: “The Brent Fixing Factory will help us develop a model for a fixing project based in a waste facility, and the Camden site, based on a high street, will provide a model for a more community-based project.

“In both we’ll aim to cut e-waste and keep electronics in use for longer, as well as educating people about electronic fixing, providing training opportunities for the fixers of the future, and providing refurbished devices to those in digital poverty.

“We expect to do this in different ways in the two sites – that will provide useful case studies, and business models, for different settings. Having developed these case studies, we hope to secure further funding to then scale these up. And that’s when we’ll get closer to our dream of a fixing factory on every high street and in every waste facility.”

Dear described the process of ‘bringing the project to life’, and the role of project partners: “Alongside Possible, Ready Tech Go, West London Waste Authority and MerI, we pulled together a plan and applied for a National Lottery Community Fund development grant in 2021.

“We found out at the end of the year that we were successful and got started straight away with recruitment. As recruitment was happening, we started making the plan a reality: One of the first jobs was to come up with branding and communications. Possible led on this and developed a brilliant design.

“West London Waste Authority got started getting the site ready, and commissioned a striking giant laptop sculpture, made of e-waste. We developed a survey and started reaching out to local community groups that we were keen to work with, so that we could ensure the site was designed in a way that would benefit the local young people.

“The new recruits started a month before launch and hit the ground running. They’re now developing and delivering the brilliant activities that are now bringing the project to life.”

Giving waste “a new lease of life”

Dear added: “Because our current manufacturing system is linear not circular, products are made, used and thrown away rather than made, used and re-used. Waste just keeps being produced no matter what we, or the consumer, do.

“Most people want to do the right thing and be environmentally friendly, but usually don’t know how to recycle their phone or laptop, or are worried about data security. The Fixing Factory fills that gap and gives this ‘waste’ a new lease of life, creating opportunities people wouldn’t otherwise have.

“It can be used for training and learning, it can be used for people to fix their own goods and it can provide essential digital access for those who need it most. There are so many different ways in which electronic waste can benefit a local community.”

Emma Beal, MD of the West London Waste Authority, commented: “I was watching a news item, interviewing a woman with three children who was explaining how they were trying to do their schooling from home on a very small phone with a cracked screen. And it just broke my heart.

“I realised that our goal of reducing waste and increasing the length of product life rather than entering our waste streams, and her goal of wanting to be able to access technology so her children could learn, could be solved at the same time.”

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