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Ugo Vallauri and The Restart Project

Interview by Charlotte Du Cann

Photo by El Fabrika

What’s the best thing that has come out of Transition? High on the list of everyone’s answers must be the sharing and learning of hands-on skills.

We can fix it: the first Restart Party in Tunisia took place this April

One of the most innovative skillshare enterprises to have emerged, The Restart Project, brings ‘the great reskilling’ to a whole new level. Tackling the tricky area of electronic repair, co-founders Ugo Vallauri and Janet Gunter have put the solution to high consumer waste – literally – into the hands of the people. Their London-based Restart Parties began in 2012 as a way for communities to repair their own electrical goods and are now springing up around the UK and in other countries, from Tunisia to the US. I asked Ugo what made the project so dynamic: “ There is something tru ly u n iqu e a nd m a g ic a l a b ou t

experiential projects where the concept comes alive as soon as you walk into the room. Restart is about people deciding for themselves how we resist this insane culture of planned obsolescence

“Why is it that we have so many gadgets around us? Are they actually contributing to our wellbeing? Are they actually making us more able to fulfil our goals?” and start to provide a true alternative. Although campaigning about waste is important there is something transformative when you take responsibility and become part of the solution.“ Restart Parties team up local people with expert volunteers, known as Restarters, and together they work out how to mend their broken kettles, iPads, digital radios and phones. But can everyone do it? “There are two taboos at play within the small electrical and consumer electronics field. The

first is about opening products problem, without even realising project received seed funding, up because of their design and a that the problem exists. which has allowed the team to fear of handling electrical stuff – a “Both Janet and I had worked in launch a new arm of the entertaboo we aim to break by showing the global South in international prise – their work with companies. a safe way to approach the problem development, where there is a This service brings pop-up repair and learn about the key tools to do much more sustainable approach half-day events or two hour lunch this work. to technology: an efficient repair breaks to workplaces and offers “The second taboo is to do with economy and appreciation for one-to-one sessions bet ween perceiving something as waste still-valuable resources. You would employees and Restart repair rather than as a resource. We are never find people there throwing coaches. blind to the reality that we throw away a functional computer just “Here, people who might not away so much stuff that could be because it had become a bit slow. get a chance to come to our comreused by other individuals in the “When we came across the work munity events can bring their MP3 community. We try to hide it by that was happening in the Repair player or their laptop, their digital discarding it into recycling centres Cafe world, it inspired us to start radio or toaster and have a chance and avoid looking at the massive our own repair pop-up events, as to troubleshoot, take apart and cost and pollution involved in its a way to get people interested in often repair them. disposal and transformation into what we wanted to discuss. “If you look at waste as a other products.” “These events were instantly resource it can jump-start some Rather than being appalled by much more successful than we other conversations in the way the consequences of our ‘recycling’ had originally anticipated. We see your own company does business, in places like Ghana (where much repair and maintenance as crucial, and we are all up for using these of Europe’s electronic waste is but our message also involves a exchanges as opportunities to burned), Restart approaches the strong critique of how products inspire companies to think differissue from a different angle: are made and the economic incen- ently about the way they operate. “We wanted to come up with tives that companies have around For us it’s a great way to be able to something self-empowering with continuing to produce new and reach out to this part of the public a positive message that was a that we would not necessarily have hopeful, action-oriented answer a chance to meet.” “A practical hands-on to these problems. If we don’t chalThe Project hinges completely lenge the current system here in act opens up thinking on finding people who are willing our own communities we are never to share their skills. Where do the in a much more going to come up with any practiRestart repairers come from? cal solution. “The Restarters are the biggest effective way than “At the Parties we always ask: and the best surprise that we’ve any campaign” ‘Have you had a situation where somecome across. There are a lot of thing is broken, you don’t know what people upset about how consumer to do and you put it aside because you more gadgets with incremental society has been shaped so that are at a loss?’ upgrades, and promoting them repair skills are disregarded; or “Some people might under- with massive marketing cam- that it has been disincentivised by stand the ultimate implications paigns. Instead we’re trying to rec- a market structure that has pushed of electronic waste, polluting the reate a culture and a practice in our many professional repairers out of outskirts of Accra, but everyone communities where we fix not just their jobs (not helped by the cost of understands the frustrations when equipment but also our own rela- spare parts and difficult-to-access something goes wrong in their tionship with these products.” repair manuals). own household. So by providing a For the first 18 months Restart “And so a lot of both professionvery easy-to-explain solution, you operated entirely as a volunteer ally and informally trained repaircan have an impact on the wider collective. At the end of 2013 the ers have come to us. That’s when

Transition Free Press (TFP5)  

Transition Free Press Issue 5 Spring 2014