In 2020, Repair Café Aotearoa New Zealand (RCANZ) grew out of what had previously been Repair Café Auckland. In the two years since, Brigitte Sistig has been working tirelessly in a volunteer capacity to develop a nationwide ecosystem which connects like-minded people, fosters community and creates new life for our broken household items. “Historically, repair cafés are quite small and localised, but what we’ve done is to form a national organisation which hadn’t previously existed before,” she says. “The intention is to connect all pop-up repair cafés across the country and support them. We are also interested in setting up permanent repair cafés and working together with repair businesses and the education sector.”
RCANZ is now umbrella-ed by Zero Waste Network of New Zealand and has partnered with Para Kore with the intention of bringing repair cafés to marae and Māori communities. It was through her experience with Zero Waste, Brigitte says, that she first became aware of Hui E! Community Aotearoa. “I remember learning about Hui E! when they first launched, and attended one of their very first meetings to learn about how they were set up to support organisations like us.”
Brigitte wishes that she’d known more about the kinds of support available when RCANZ was in its early days, in particular around navigating the challenging funding landscape. “We applied twice for substantial funds and were denied one and given a token amount by the other. It was quite discouraging at the time and it was only afterward that we learned that Hui E! could have connected us with volunteers to help us write those very time-consuming applications.”
It ended up being third-time lucky for RCANZ, who has just recently received some funding through Foundation North which will help them to design a website and contract a part-time coordinator through the end of the year. Brigitte has since had conversations with Hui E! about where and how the next rounds of funding might be awarded after that, and has joined Hui E!’s network of community organisations. “I read their newsletters and I’ve attended a couple of their webinars, which I’ve found really informative. I’m also in discussions with Hui E! about how they can assist with some other voluntary help around aspects like social media.”
RCANZ has a busy period ahead, starting with the hand delivery of a ‘Make it our Right to Repair’ petition to the Minister for the Environment, Hon. David Parker. The hope is that bringing attention to this key environmental issue will ensure mandatory product stewardship design and make it easier and cheaper for New Zealanders to get their items repaired. In the meantime, RCANZ is continuing to grow its network of repair cafés and Brigitte is busy developing new, shared resources including a co-written, collective repair café manual for use across Aotearoa.
Brigitte says that her time with RCANZ has shown her just how urgently the impact sector needs to find new and better ways to collaborate and share information. “What’s really been highlighted for me is the fact that the community sector expects so much from its volunteers. We’re not very good at looking after our grassroots initiatives and we really need to shift away from a culture of competition and come together.”
That’s what RCANZ is working hardest on now, Brigitte says: helping repair cafés nationwide, creating shared resources and getting funding to support them, and connecting organisations working in the Zero Waste space across Aotearoa. In this way, she draws some parallels between her work and Hui E!’s. “I’d love to join them and work together on creating some seminars around these sector-wide issues; how to work together and create a culture of collaboration. Hui E! is designed like that, just like RCANZ. We both set out to develop networks and resources that are widely applicable and which can be used to support everyone. Together, we can do it. We can find ways.”