Clare Seek standing in front of the Repair Cafe sign

Clare Seek

Portsmouth Library of Things / Repair Café Portsmouth

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Clare Seek is on a mission. Her vision for Portsmouth in 50 years’ time is for it to be truly sustainable.

Clare recently launched Portsmouth Library of Things and Repair Café Portsmouth at the Cascades shopping centre in Portsmouth’s city centre. From its initial concept, it is now a registered charity with two members of staff in a prominent retail space in the heart of the city. Clare hopes that her shop location will spark interest and a wave of ‘borrow, not buy’ and ‘fix, don’t ditch’.

Clare’s eco story goes back many years to when she was expecting her first child. Since then, every project she has undertaken has had environmental issues at its core. For her, it’s about bringing communities and nature together, so they can thrive alongside, not against, each other.

“For me, it first started out with our bin and finding ways to reduce what I was putting in it. We started composting food waste and this idea grew to eliminating waste altogether. The only thing left was plastic.”

The shift grew to finding richness in less and the launch of Plastic Free Portsmouth with Surfers Against Sewage, campaigning across the city to eliminate the use of single-use plastic. In 2021, the campaign achieved Plastic Free Status for the city.

“It showed that our concentrated effort could help to start a change in thinking and behaviour, and a tide that can’t be turned back.”

From then, Clare started thinking creatively about other ways to shift the tide:

  • The Portsmouth Green Drinks, as part of the international Green Drinks network, is a monthly event, bringing together those working in the environmental sector, or people with an interest in environmental issues.
  • Wimbledon Park Patch is a neighbourhood group that connects people with a thread of sustainable activities within it. It plants herb gardens and organises local events, such as a jumble trail in the local area – a yard sale outside their homes.
  • In 2020, coordinated by the Wimbledon Park Patch community group, Southsea’s first car club started, allowing members to enjoy more affordable and hassle-free access to cars in the area. (The council is set to introduce a city-wide scheme with Enterprise cars in summer 2023.)

In 2017, Clare had the idea of a repair café in Portsmouth and put a message out on Facebook to see if there would be an appetite for it. Within 24 hours, she had the support of 200 people and 20 helpers to run a monthly pop-up. Fast forward six years and she stands proudly in the retail space at Cascades shopping centre, with official charity status.

“I’m not trying to compete with other shops, but my aim is to remove the barriers to repairing and sharing.”

Membership for the Portsmouth Library of Things starts from as little as £1 a year. Members can browse the online catalogue and borrow items for a week at a time with a suggested donation amount which help to support the charity, then simply bring back. The items range from things to help you do DIY, gardening, cooking, crafting, camping, parties and events for use at home or community projects.

“So many people own drills but on average, they are only used for 13 minutes! Instead of buying, why not borrow?”

The Repair Café Portsmouth runs regular sessions, in their hub at the Cascades shopping centre, and locations around the city (see their website for details). People book slots to come along with their broken items for help from skilled volunteers. It works on a ‘donate what you can’ basis, whether that be money or time. All contributions help to create spaces to inspire and enable sharing.

“The UK is one of the largest contributors of e-waste, and recent research shows that at least 50% of electrical items taken to tips actually still work! I think we can do better and need to do better. That’s where the Repair Café comes in. Get more people in our city borrowing and repairing, saving them money and space and reducing waste and carbon.”

When asked about her challenges, she says the system has been a big barrier:

“The government targets recycling but that’s at the bottom of the waste hierarchy and there are so many better ways of dealing with our unwanted things. We should value repairs and ditch VAT on repair services. It’s crazy that there’s no VAT charged on fixing super-yachts, but charged on mobile phone repairs, for example.”

Clare has her eyes set on her next goal with plans for an e-waste amnesty, working with residents and businesses, large and small, to collect unwanted electrical and electronic items. With the principles of the circular economy model in mind, Clare aims to keep products and materials in circulation through processes such as reuse, repair, remanufacture and recycling.

“I have three mottos that I hope will inspire others to take action: 1 – Fix, don’t ditch. 2 – Borrow, not buy. 3 – Got an idea? Give it a go!”