Repair Cafe update

On Saturday we held our latest Repair Cafe. This time we moved it to a nearby village and ran it alongside the regular Community Swap event organised by Corsham’s green group (Transcoco).

Repair Cafe Box March 12 2016 (2)

While the Community Swap event was busy we were less so. It may be because the Repair Cafe was a new addition to the event or we should have had better signing. Stil we had 15 customers in two hours and our electrician, engineer and seamstress were still busy mending and offering advice.

Repair Cafe Box March 12 2016 (4)

Alison, our seamstress, was busy altering some beautiful vintage dresses

Repair Cafe Box March 12 2016 (1)

Our next Repair Cafe will be back in Corsham but we agreed we’d like to take the Repair Cafe on the road again…..


Repair Cafe…on the road

Tomorrow we are taking our regular Repair Cafe on the road ….well about three miles away!

The Corsham Repair Cafe will be temporarily turned into the Box Repair Cafe (yes there is a village near us called Box: famous for being the childhood home of Thomas the Tank Engine’s creator Rev Awdry, Brunel’s Box Tunnel and Peter Gabriel’s recording studios.)

Now that my work commitments have changed on Saturdays I have been keen to get the Repair Cafe out and about fixing. As our partners, Transcoco, will be running their Give & Take Day in Box, it seemed the perfect opportunity to run the events side by side.

March 2016 posterLet’s see if we can get the residents of Box fixing too!

Second-Hand Sitting Room

Over the past month we have been working on redecorating our sitting room. As we have now decided not to sell our cottage we are concentrating on a) maximising the space we have and b) updating and repainting rooms (ie doing those jobs we have put off over the past few years)

Ever since we moved into our house thirteen years ago we have been keen to remove this old 1930s fireplace:

updating fireplace: before


We knew that there was a larger fireplace behind it, judging by our neighbour’s and the age of the houses (dating back to the 1780s). However money was always a factor and, as we had more pressing jobs to do, this project was left on the back burner.

However last month we decided to bite the bullet and arranged for the fireplace to be removed and knocked through. This is the result:

updating fireplace: during

We live a stone’s throw (if you’ll pardon the pun) from the city of Bath, which is famous for its honey coloured stone. There is definitely evidence of Bath stone having been used for our original fireplace but, sadly, its condition was not good enough to leave as it was. So we decided to plaster over the chimney breast and then paint it. I have to say,  I am pleased with the results:

cottage fireplace

The next task will be to find and install a woodburner as an open fire doesn’t work well enough. I’m not sure when we’ll have saved for this but, in the meantime, I think the lights add a warming focal touch.

updating fireplace: after

As we had knocked out the fireplace (and created a lot of mess) the next job was to repaint walls, which hadn’t been touched for ten years, and buy a new carpet. Then there were other fittings and fixtures to add BUT I’m pleased to say nearly everything else in our sitting room is second-hand.

second-hand furnishings in cottage sitting room

The lamp was bought for £30 in our favourite Dorothy House Electrical and Furniture shop in Chippenham. The armchair was – literally – picked up from the street for free about nine years ago. The electric organ has replaced our piano to generate more space in the alcove. Once more it was bought from Dorothy House (with stand) for £35.

The bookshelves were made by both my husband and myself over the past twenty years, all from reclaimed floorboards. I made the top two when I was still a student and my husband made the rest. As you can see I haven’t been so good with decluttering our bookshelves but it’s nice to see all the family’s books on display. This has become a proper reading nook and, at last the children, can have easy access to all their books. We are now working on bringing down all our books from storage in the loft and, if they don’t fit on the shelves, we don’t keep them.

This is another view of the sitting room:

second hand sofa, chair and lamp in sitting room

The sofa is second-hand, bought earlier this year (after our sofa saga of being without anything to sit on for a month!). The cushions and red throw were recently picked up in a local charity shop, as were a couple of the black picture frames hanging on the wall.

I’m really pleased that we have been able to keep within budget for this project and feel that the blend of new and old work well together. With some research and hunting around I think it is as easy to buy second-hand furniture and fittings for any room. I don’t care that the sofa has a few marks on it, or that the lampshade isn’t quite to our taste. In time we can replace this. I do like the fact that these pieces are bought from charities, have saved us money and also have a story of their own to tell. And we haven’t had to make any trips to Ikea for this project!

second-hand soft furnishings

We are currently in the middle of redecorating our lounge; repainting and adding a few new touches to it. As always when it comes to buying ‘stuff’ my first question is 1) do we really need it? and 2) can we get it second-hand?

We’ve already scaled down to one (second-hand) sofa and armchair. I decided that we did need a couple of cushions and, as the weather is turning cooler, a throw or two.

Yesterday I was delighted to pick up these two cushions and cosy throw from the local PDSA shop:

second-hand soft furnishings

In total the cushions and throw were £10 (and the sofa originally £35). My next challenge is to try to find some second-hand curtains that fit in with the new colour scheme, and I’d like to get a floor lamp as well. Other touches that we have been working on include bookshelves made from reclaimed floorboards and a new (to us) fireplace that was actually hidden behind our old 1930s one. I hope to post some pictures of that soon, when the work is completed.

Our new (to us) keyboard!

In which we swapped this:

decluttering the piano

for this:

second-hand keyboard


If you dip in and out of this blog you may have noticed that I’ve become interested in minimalism, or living with less. Having read a few books, seen The Minimalists talk in Bristol, and followed initiatives such as Project 333 I have started to question what we own, and why we own it. Of course this approach has also been affected by the fact that there are five of us living in a small space (and we are set to stay here for the future).

You may have followed our Sofa Saga from earlier in the summer where we were – accidentally – left without anything to sit on! Since then we have acquired a great second-hand sofa and have not been in a hurry to purchase a second one. The space that we had gained in the lounge also led us to make a family decision to get rid of our piano.

It was an old instrument which, to my shame, was badly out of tune. Although I play a little I didn’t really use it and it is only our youngest daughter who now has piano lessons. It was also taking up a lot of space and I was forever dusting it! If I wasn’t vigilant it also became a catch-all for lots of photographs, candles and objects that could be put somewhere else/given away.

So, last month we said goodbye to our piano as it went to a new home. As promised to the girls we spent some of the money on a keyboard that they could play with (and plug headphones into). Last week we found the brilliant Casio keyboard and stand for £35 in our beloved British Heart Foundation Furniture shop in Chippenham.

I know it may not be to everyone’s taste to replace a beautiful (if out of tune) old piano for an electric keyboard. However for us as a family it has been a great purchase: the girls enjoy playing it, we can move it about the house, and we have gained some much needed space….

Happy Second Birthday to our Repair Cafe!


Corsham Repair Cafe 19 Sept 2015This Saturday marks the second birthday of our Repair Cafe! I am so excited and proud! Over the past two years and 11 cafes we have made nearly 150 repairs which means toasters, chairs, lamps, clothing, computers and bikes that haven’t gone to landfill.

We will be marking the occasion with cake, cups of tea, more repairs and I am going to attempt to tweet live from the event (yikes!) 2-4pm on Sat 19 Sept   #Corsham #RepairCafe

Repair Cafe birthday cake

For more info on Repair Cafes and other mending events near you this month there is the fabulous Festival of Repair run by The Rubbish Diet and the Make Do and Mend-able Directory of all things repair related in the UK.  Jen from the above directory and the inspiration behind my setting up our Repair Cafe will also be operating a#makedoandmendyear tweetchat on the 24th of September which will be about Repair Cafes and Restart Parties.







Family heirlooms

I’m currently reading a book called ‘J’ by Howard Jacobson. It’s (another) dystopian novel set sometime in the near future. There are echoes of ‘Brave New World’, ‘1984’ and (I think) ‘Never Let Me Go’ in it. I mention the novel because in its society people are dissuaded from keeping family heirlooms. It’s an unwritten rule that you are only allowed to keep one item that is over a hundred years old. I haven’t finished the book but I get the impression that old things remind people of something catastrophic that happened (or as it’s referred to: What Happened, if it Happened). In ‘J’ it’s not good to remember the past.

This got me thinking about the heirlooms that we have in our house. As I slowly walk the minimalist path I have been questioning everything we own and working out what we really need. This means that some things we have inherited have now gone. For example this week we said goodbye to our old piano because it takes up too much space and we are going to replace it with a smaller, portable electric keyboard.

However there are other objects that we have inherited and will keep because they a) serve a practical purpose and/or b) remind us of our past.

Take our kitchen table, for example:

Kitchen table: family heirloom

It was my grandparents’ table, then briefly used by my parents. It then went to my aunt’s (I have childhood memories of all the family gathered around the table), then it came to us about ten years ago. It’s not fancy and, as it belonged to my Nan and Grandad, wouldn’t have been expensive. It has a date stamp underneath the table of 5 Jan 1950. For this reason I do wonder if it is a piece of Utility Furniture: inexpensive furniture made in Britain between 1942 and 1952 to meet the increasing demand for furniture (especially by people whose houses were bombed) while suffering from a lack of available resources to produce them.

I am fascinated by both the social and personal, family history that surrounds this table. It is also really practical and can seat eight people around it.

As neither my husband and I have formally inherited items from our grandparents (only one pair of our four grandparents ever owned their own home), there are other items that have casually come to us and we use on a day to day basis, without even thinking about them.

For example, I regularly use this single serving ceramic pan that my Dad had when he lived on his own. I’m not sure what its original purpose is as it can’t be used on a hob. However I find it ideal for soaking grains, such as couscous, in, or storing leftovers in.

Practical family heirlooms

I also have this pyrex lemon squeezer which I think looks quite beautiful:

pyrex lemon squeezer

I do confess to possessing some items that I have kept because they look beautiful. From time to time I use this small china tea set that once belonged to my great gran:

tea set as family heirloom

I also have an ironing board which I rarely use, but can’t quite get rid of because it belonged to my Nan. There is a whole load of emotional attachment to this item which I need to work through. If I get rid of it it doesn’t mean I loved my Nan any less. It barely serves a practical purpose as I don’t iron. And yet….

What family heirlooms do you keep? Do you keep them for emotional, or practical, reasons – or both?