Parish of Brentford Clothes Repair Café

Parish of Brentford Clothes Repair Café

14 December 2023 by Sarah Salisbury in Isolation, Debt and Financial Wellbeing, Mental Health, Climate Change.

The Parish of Brentford in Hounslow started on their Eco Church journey in 2021.

Out of that has developed a monthly clothes repair café based in the church building.

Sarah Salisbury, one of the leaders of the Eco Church team, talks about founding and running the Brentford Clothes Repair Café and how it has impacted their church and wider community.

Brentford Repair Cafe 5  CC

What is the Repair Café and how does it run?

Brentford Clothes Repair Café was set up to encourage and teach people how to mend holes and rips in their own clothes as well as advise on adjustments (shortening/taking in etc.).

We meet once or twice a month for a couple of hours in a meeting room adjacent to our church’s café. We have also run it occasionally in evenings in a local pub!

We run a mixture of expert led sessions, teaching specific techniques and drop in sessions where participants can bring along any mending project.

Our most recent session this December was about upcycling to create your own Christmas jumper (rather than buying new) using various lettering techniques. It was very joyful and the results were really impressive!

What made you start it?

Inspired by attending another local clothes repair café in Ealing, I’d always hoped to establish a similar thing in Brentford but didn’t want to do it alone. Fast forward a couple of years and we started as a church to work towards our first Eco Church award.

Through the Eco Church group, Natalie and I met and discovered a shared vision to develop a space for sharing clothes repair skills in Brentford, so it seemed the obvious time to get it going.

Our repair café contributes towards our “community engagement” part of our Eco Church award, but it’s also an important part of our global engagement.

Reading Nina and Sonya Montenegro’s “Mending Life: A Handbook for Repairing Clothes and Hearts” underlined to me the human injustices that are rife in the fashion industry. This is one small way that we can stand against that injustice.

What is the repair café trying to do?

Whilst primarily trying to reduce the number of clothes sent to landfill by extending their life, a secondary aim of the café is to raise awareness of visibly mended clothes, reduce stigma around mended clothes and quietly challenge the fast fashion and consumption status quo.

There have also been some unexpected (but welcome!) benefits of running the clothes café brought about by the development of a community gathering to focus on sewing, crafts and mending.

Friendships have developed between Natalie, myself and participants as well as between one another.

We have found that the clothes people seek to mend so often have an incredible story or memory attached to them and so the act of mending goes beyond the mechanics of fixing something to put it back into use.

What has the Repair Café brought to the church?

The primary benefit has really been developing relationships within the church and within the local community.

It has been a vehicle to bring together those with a shared interest but also a tool to allow others to experiment with a new idea.

For instance, we facilitated a Christmas Jumper session with our Youth Group in 2022 with great success and hope to run others in the future.

Being a creative activity, we have all benefited from the space to bounce around ideas, experiment, try things out (and get things wrong!) and grow through that process individually and as a community.

What do those who come get out of it?

It prioritises mending for me, giving me (another) reason and accountability to mend my clothes and upskill in the area. I also benefit from the forum of creativity we have developed and a space to explore ideas and techniques.

For those attending the café I hope they leave having learnt new skills and having been given the opportunity to develop their confidence in applying these skills, and space to think about reducing their impact on the planet, as well as the opportunity to connect with others in their local community.

Any good stories to share?

  • One participant mending the socks of another. The socks held important memories of the lady’s late husband. We bounced around ideas about how to do it well (it couldn’t be a quick and dirty fix!) and another member of the group offered to take them home and do them ‘properly’ (they needed patches knitting in the right coloured wool). Restoring them allowed the other participant to enjoy them once again and cherish their associated memories (See the before and after pictures HERE.)

  • We hosted several Christmas Jumper sessions including one at a local pub in aid of Save The Children’s Christmas Jumper Day raising over £400. This engaged a different audience with clothes repair and upcycle including the landlord who proudly modelled his Christmas Tree Jumper which hid a triangular shaped iron burn! (See the fabulous results HERE.)

How does this relate to your faith in God, and the mission of the church?

So many ways!

  • Helping myself and others to use/steward God’s resources preciously
  • The creative healing process/meditative state of sewing helps me to connect with God and benefit from the healing He offers
  • Facing the issue of justice related to how people making clothes are treated in the clothes industry and campaigning against these injustices
  • A slow sharing of faith/witness during the groups and in raising awareness of these above listed issues

How are you seeking to journey with EcoChurch more widely?

We have a small eco team responsible for different areas of Eco Church, seeking to embed its principles within the fabric of the Parish of Brentford from engaging senior leadership, the PCC and members of the congregation.

Other community projects include, for example, a community Eco Garden which has transformed a small garden area into a food growing area, nature walk and pond, as well as making it more accessible to the local community.

We’ve also started hosting an annual Green Fair, as we realised there wasn’t anyone bringing people together. So we have started a yearly celebration, gathering local green organisations in one space to showcase their activities and invite the local community to get further involved.

We are also working with the senior leadership and PCC to examine our energy consumption and plan future energy options.

In early 2024 we will host a Carbon Literacy Course, encouraging those attending to think about how to reduce their carbon output personally and as a church. This will run alongside a Carbon Fast during Lent, inviting the congregation to experiment with different ways lifestyle changes could reduce their impact.

What advice would you give a church if they were interested in doing something similar?

  • It’s easy to get started with a few committed volunteers and a relatively basic kit (very happy to advise on this!).
  • Getting the balance of general drop in sessions vs. technique-specific sessions will help you to manage your workload and expectations of participants during sessions.
  • Running a few sessions will help you to establish the type of audience you will attract for the timeslot you have chosen and the types of mends that they will want to do.
  • Specific events will help advertise, raise awareness and build momentum inside and outside church community e.g. Christmas/Big Green Week/Fashion Revolution/London Repair Week.
  • Social media is your friend – so that people who are unable to join can follow the journey, and you can use your own stories and others’ to increase awareness of mending/make it more mainstream!
  • Remember to take before/after photos and collect the stories as you go, or allocate someone to do this for you!

You can find out more about the Brentford Clothes Repair Cafe on Instagram and Parish of Brentford here.

To find out more about Eco Church and how to get going with it, here’s more information, or get in touch!

Sarah Salisbury

Sarah Salisbury

Sarah has been a member of St Pauls Brentford congregation for 4 years and is part of the Eco Church team there. She's worked for a number of environmental charities in insight and project management roles.

View all posts by Sarah Salisbury

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