I recently caught an episode of The Repair Shop on BBC 1, in which the cameras capture the restoration of items which have seen better days. The BBC’s programme page says:
Enter a workshop filled with expert craftspeople, bringing loved pieces of family history and the memories they hold back to life. A heartwarming antidote to throwaway culture.
When I tweeted about seeing the show, a couple of friends said ‘I can’t believe you’ve never watched this before! That’s right up your street!’
I guess so. I did love seeing expert repairers problem-solving and breathing new life into some incredibly cool old stuff – including using some amazing, niche techniques to match the original style or construction of the item. I do love the idea of a major media outlet encouraging people to hold onto what they have, rather than throwing things away and replacing them. But I’m afraid I do also have a problem with the show’s messaging.
The BBC’s parade of family heirlooms and one-of-a-kind curios being lovingly restored to their former glory through the most exsquisite craftsmanship available is certainly great television. But it sends a message that repairing an object is a rarefied skill which takes a lot of specialised, intricate work – and that only the most unique, expensive, or sentimentally-valuable items are worthy of such privileged treatment.
I’m not saying it isn’t amazing to watch these people at work, and to see the results of their craftsmanship – but if the goal really is to challenge ‘throwaway culture’ and help foster an attitude of sustainability, the BBC has got the balance and focus of the show wrong.
It may not be as glamorous to watch somebody change a laptop trackpad or put a new door on their fridge. And those ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots certainly won’t astound the viewers in the same way, when it looks like a simple process that anyone can do. But that is precisely the point!
If we really want to encourage people to repair more and replace less, we don’t need to show them how precious the art of restoring beautiful antique furniture is – we need to show them how easy and manageable it can be to change a car headlamp bulb, or a phone battery. Repair is for everyone; and for everything!
The restorations showcased on The Repair Shop are incredible, one-in-a-million works of art, performed by true masters of their craft. I love to watch that, I have the utmost respect for the people doing that work, and I can totally understand why the BBC want to show that on national television. But that doesn’t match up to the show’s stated aims.
Changing our throwaway culture means making repair ordinary; everyday; humdrum. I would just as much love watching a BBC programme which puts the simple, functional repairs that anyone can do front-and-centre – and which aims to encourage anyone who isn’t sure they can do it yet to have a go.