Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Restart Economy

You will be familiar with the phrase “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” but did you know there is also “no such thing as a free market”? If a manufacturer designs and builds its product to last forever it will pretty soon be out of business and so we have “planned obsolescence” and cartels where manufacturers agree on the details. Then there is the ever advance of technology and these days we can go through many iterations within a human lifetime. Vinyl records, tapes, CDs, iPods and downloads. How many VHS tapes are now firmly rooted in a landfill somewhere? But sometimes we can fight back.

In these days of austerity (and we won’t mention the paradox of thrift to the chancellor) many people are turning to the “make do and mend” that some of us grew up with after the second world war. And it can be fun. Repairing something is an achievement, sometimes involving a bit of creative thinking and innovation and that makes people feel good about themselves.

I have a story. Back in the 60s my wife (she wasn’t then) had a set of Carmen curlers that stopped working. I took it to bits and found a burnt out resistor. Sent off for a replacement, soldered it in – and those Carmen curlers still work today. That was planned obsolescence; I was supposed to buy a new set.

But how many of us know how to do these things? Well, the Internet is a great source of information – how to do a hard reset on a troublesome mobile phone for example. But sometimes we need some practical help and may not have the right tools. This is where the Restart Project comes in:-
The Restart Project is a people-powered platform for change, helping demand emerge for more sustainable, better electronics.
By working with communities, schools, and companies to value and use electronics longer – and documenting the barriers to doing so – we’re driving a global movement to move beyond the throw-away economy.
We take local action to prevent electronic waste through hands-on, learning events where we help people fix their own electronics – and help others to do the same globally.
We also look at the big picture, generating valuable insights into how to improve electronics for people, from design and manufacture, through use and end of life.
When we act together, people everywhere have the skills and vision to guarantee that technology serves people and planet. Our insights and actions will enable designers, companies and policymakers to fix what we simply cannot on our own.
Restart at the Ilford Pop-up cafe earlier this year
And we, Barkingside 21 are hosting a Restart Party on Saturday 3rd December 2016 from 12noon to 3pm in the Hainault room, Fullwell Cross Library.

So, if you’ve got a broken kettle/lamp/toaster/etc., slow laptop, a troublesome gadget, a misbehaving smartphone, just bring it along and the team will not only try to fix it, they will teach you how to do it.

If you are not from around these here parts then do look out for a Restart Party near you. They get just about everywhere, there was one held in the Houses of Parliament recently hosted by Helen Hayes MP.

When attending a Restart Party
  • Please arrive during the first two hours
  • Please bring devices charged AND their power leads/adapters
  • Please do not expect us to have spare parts or replacement mobile screens
  • This is not a free repair shop, it’s a pop-up community event!
  • Often people attend twice, once to get advice on what part to buy and a second time to repair


  1. Brilliant idea B21 (I've been doing it for years) but aren't we in danger of bringing down on our heads a battalion of 'elf n safety officials?

  2. Oh if it was only as easy as you make it sound! The problem with so much modern electronic equipment is that it is either designed not to be repaired or requires a lot of expensive equipment to do so.

    My background is in electronics but my trusty soldering iron is useless on a piece of kit that requires a special oven to simultaneously solder all 128 (or whatever) connections on a chip about the size of a small corn-flake!

    Many manufacturers will only sell replacement modules and at a price that means that a repair to that flat screen TV you bought in the aisle behind the cornflakes at a 'bargain' price can cost almost as much - or even more! - than you the price you paid for it in the first place.

    How many small repair shops do you see these days? Apart from the 'unrepairability' of so many items these days, in the modern cut throat market the supermarkets et al have taken away the retail sales that made these independents viable in the first place. All they get now - if they are still around - is the crumbs.

    Yes, there are some problems that can be resolved easily with a bit of know-how and/or guidance. You can even put a 'go-faster' stripe on your PC or laptop by increasing the memory size quite easily - so long as you know what type of memory modules you need to buy in the first place! (They clip into place - the several hundred soldered joints already having been made automatically by machine!)

    Sorry to paint such a jaundiced view - and I hope the Restart Party goes well - but, through my continued interest on vintage TV and radio (which can still be repaired if you can find the parts!) I am in contact with a number of former engineers who have been forced to shut up shop for financial reasons.

  3. Hi Knowsie, We don't do much component-level repair at Restart Parties. (Although some of our volunteers are teaching themselves surface-mount soldering!)

    We absolutely agree with your view of the commercial repair sector. What we are trying to do with Restart Parties is spark an awareness of precisely the problems you raise, stimulate demand for repairable electronics and commercial repair.

    We fix just under half of the items we see at Restart Parties (and about 5% go home DIY-ready to finish the job), but the failed repairs also represent learning opportunities both for participants but also for policymakers and manufacturers (who will some day care to listen). We'd encourage you and your engineer friends to get involved.

    Best, Janet
    The Restart Project

  4. It looks like 'er at the end of the Mall has spotted your blog, B21. You really started something. But £369 million! You've a lot to answer for mate.

  5. I think you've got it wrong, Alfred. If she'd read this blog, surely she would be canvassing for some practical advice and the loan of some tools?

  6. Not really. I can't somehow see Betty 2 up a ladder cleaning out the gutters.