Our Volunteers

Our Volunteers
A few of our volunteers

02 November 2020

Restoring memories - Grandfather's Wooden Toolbox

 I never met my grandfather. He was a ‘Leading Seaman on HMS Hood’ when he married my grandmother in 1922. He died of TB when my father was just 5 years old. You may recall that HMS Hood was a battleship sunk by the Bismarck in 1941. I hoarded the filthy, oil and paint covered toolbox that I found under mounds of tools in my father’s shed 10 years ago, and finally got around to restoring it during the Coranavirus lockdown. 

In scrounging old furniture and as part of my upholstery hobby, encouraged by a Dad who could fix anything, I had gained the confidence to tackle restoration projects. I unscrewed the little brass knobs from the drawers and the handle and removed the remnants of felt drawer liners.  Stage 1 was the cleaning. I found my aunt’s secret recipe “from the Victoria and Albert Museum”, for cleaning antique furniture “To be taken only if you are antique and made of wood”. 

This is it:

1 part White Spirit

1 part Methylated Spirit

1 part white vinegar

1/2 part Linseed Oil.

As I planned to give a first coat of diluted varnish, rather than wax or oil, I omitted the Linseed oil. I shook the ingredients together in a plastic bottle. I used very, very fine wire wool ‘0000’ grade to apply small amount of the cleaning liquid from a margarine tub, working in the direction of the grain.  As the wads of wire wool became filthy, I replaced them with clean ones. There were small particles of wire wool and concealed dirt left in the box and drawers, so I first brushed the surfaces then vacuumed them. 

I should have brushed on a first coat of clear varnish diluted with white spirit to all surfaces. I had learned from stripping wooden doors that this helps to protect them from stains. Unable to easily find a container, I applied a coat of neat varnish. The coats of wax subsequently applied would have bonded better onto a thinner coat of varnish. 

The box is probably oak. Unable to get to shops during lockdown and wanting to use products that had been in the shed for many years, I used a ‘Mahogany’ coloured wax. I applied the first two coats using a pad of ‘0000’ wire wool, working in circles in a small area at a time, and then finishing in the direction of the grain. I worked at it until there was no hint of wax or red stain, and a shine started to build up. Allowing a day or two between coats, I applied more layers of wax using a ‘rubber’ made of lint-fee material – a wad of fabric from an old tea towel. I applied it to the inside and outside of the drawers and the door of the box too. After eight coats I was happy with the shine and thought my father grandfather would be proud. 


I cleaned the brass knobs from the drawers and their screws. First I soaked them I Coca Cola. It had little effect. They were tarnished but not rusty.  I used brass cleaner and fine wire wool on both knobs and screws. That worked. All that was left of the handle were the steel fixings and a blue metal strap. One of our volunteers suggested that this could be all that was left of an original leather strap. Our volunteer specialising in leather repairs suggested a website for leather straps and I found a suitable replacement.

A wooden door slots into a groove in the bottom of the frame and is held in place only by turning the key in the lock. But I had no key. Seeking help from our antique restorer volunteer again, he had a key made to fit the lock.

It still wasn’t finished. This tool cabinet had held precision tools like calipers and micrometers. I bought some sticky backed green felt (online) and there was just enough to line all the drawers. 

I never met my grandfather but I feel we have got to know each other quite well now, through a shared memory. 

You can watch the videos we made about the restoration here:

Cleaning and waxing grandfather’s wooden toolbox

The restoration of Grandfather’s toolbox is complete!


Ros Dean 


27 March 2020

March 2020, Repair Cafe

 We had initially thought that our March event would be really busy, building on the success and the publicity we had for our participation in the Big Fix 2020. A few days before the event, we learned that our two IT repairers and our Jewellery repairer couldn’t come. We’d already taken the decision to cancel our April 2020 in the light of the Coronavirus threat. That threat was building exponentially and had the event been one day later, we would probably have cancelled it. Would anyone come?

As if by magic, just the right number of people came to keep us occupied. We saw 64 repairs – we usually get 75 – 90. We had quite a few new volunteers ‘in training’ in the café area, giving out forms and helping people to fill them in. We had new volunteers on Mechanical, Electrical and Sewing repairs too. Bernie’s husband Paul stepped in make tea and coffee for us as we are lacking a volunteer in that role. “Steve the Treasurer” had admitted to having media studies skills and camera and video equipment so he recorded some video clips, with a view to eventually making a documentary about Repair Cafe Weymouth. 

We love the stories around the items that people bring for repair. One gentleman had brought a metal detector that had cost him £400 20 years ago. A silver engraved hairpin he had found was now in a museum and both he and the landowner had been handsomely rewarded.

Phil had worked on a fish-shaped glug jug at our last few events and I caught him using a hairdryer that volunteer Maggie had brought in for repair, for another stage in the invisible repair process. I knew that Phil built models but I didn’t appreciate the extent of his skills until I saw him repair a resin model of a waiter.

Lady holding repaired waiter model

It had a big hole in the elbow. Phil put him on the operating table, masked off the area around the hole and somehow fixed a bit of card under the hole. I saw him sprinkling his magic black fairy dust into the hole. He must have melted that and shaped it. Our visitors described the repair as “Absolutely amazing!”.

Jim had taken home a model boat after our previous event, to untangle the ropes, add more eyelets and fix the ropes in the right places, make a copper strap for the boom and make a stand for the whole thing!

Match box sized music boxes

A lady had brought in 4 tiny music boxes that had been given to her children. They are smaller than matchboxes. Our clock repairer Alan has an eye for ‘fiddly’ jobs, and he quickly got 3 of the 4 working. 

Our visitors seem to love come to our events. One gentleman said it was his third visit. I hope we will soon be back together in the Palm House. Meanwhile, both repairers and people looking for advice on repairs can join the virtual Fixit Clinic

Stay safe!

Ros Dean

06 March 2020

The Big Fix 2020 – Blog 2

We had invited the Councillors of Weymouth, Portland and Dorset councils to attend The Big Fix 2020. Five or six came and one brought a chain saw for repair. Councillor Jon Andrews is also the mayor of Sherborne and he plans to start a Repair Café. When interviewed by Peter Lythgoe for our live Facebook video he said he has premises and he can ensure free parking. We discussed parking for Repair Cafe Weymouth events with Weymouth and Dorset councillors and they approached Dorset Highways on our behalf, but they feel they cannot set a precedent. We also sowed the seed of a “Library of Things” for Weymouth with the councillors. Donated tools could be hired out at minimal costs, because we do not all need a shed full of ‘stuff’.

Councillor Giovanna Lewis is keen to start a Repair Cafe on Portland and two ladies from Winfrith came along with a view to starting one there. Just the result we had hoped for! We are happy to help.

So what interesting items were fixed? A lady had contacted us about an old wooden doll, now in pieces and sadly missing two feet and leg. A picture on eBay showed us what the feet should look like.

Wooden Doll Repaired and repainted

Our dedicated PAT tester and electronics expert Jim responded to my email and offer to whittle parts in between jobs. We didn’t expect it to be so tiny – about 4 inches high. He did it and sewing volunteer Jane managed to restring the doll. The happy visitor subsequently painted the feet red and sent us a photo.

The jury was out among our electronics volunteers about whether a Binatone games console circa 1980’s could be adapted to play ‘ping pong’ on a modern TV. I often consult our volunteers in advance by email for jobs we have been contacted about, to ensure we assign them to the most appropriate repairer, in this case, Robert.

1980s Binatone TV master games console

“All I had to do was connect a coaxial cable to the summing point of the diodes to provide a composite video output, compatible with a modern television. Luckily the sound uses an integral speaker, so I didn’t have to worry about that.” Our happy visitor is now playing ping pong with his sons.

We have a new clock repairer Nicholas, who can also advise on antique furniture restoration. His partner Jeanne offered to repair a gold picture frame on which the moulding was cracked and had bits missing. We were amazed at the result –the moulding repaired and gilded using a range of gold paint hues to recreate shades. New volunteer Audrey discovered the moving story of the chocolate coloured labrador that was the subject of the picture. The owners Issy and Rod made a generous donation online.

Jason West of Weyforward brought donated smart phones for Repair. They are for a Social Learning Club project that teaches people from disadvantage backgrounds to use smart phones for learning. Luckily reporters from community radio station Air 107.2 were keen to record an interview with him. They were broadcasting live from the Repair Cafe and as their appeal is generally to the under 25s, we hope for more young people at our next event!

Ros Dean

05 March 2020

15 February, 2020 - The Big Fix

The Big Fix 2020 was a national event in which 74 Repair Cafes in the UK planned to participate to collectively smash the record for the number of items fixed in a single repair event. They were all to hold Repair Cafes on the same day – but Storm Dennis, bringing floods and high winds, meant that some had to cancel and some will hold their session on a different date.  The aim was to encourage lots of press and media coverage to raise awareness of repair cafes, encourage more to open, increase footfall and promote the repair culture.  It was organised by Catherine Causley of Devon County Council, and the record to beat was 268, set by Devon Repair Cafes in 2019.

We’d like to give a big shout out to BBC Radio Solent (103.8FM in Dorset) who interviewed me (Ros) and a visitor, turned volunteer, Jacqui Gisbourne just prior to our January event. A few days before the Big Fix, reporter Laurence brought along a clock that had belonged to his father. He recorded 4 interviews with some of our volunteers Alan (clocks), Andrew (gluing), Steve Fox (Mechanical and sharpening), me Ros (founder and Chairman), and Colby, whose family have recently taken over the Old Ship Inn in Upwey, Weymouth, complete with a mantle clock of local interest. The interviews were broadcast on Friday 14 February. Another reporter subsequentlyrecorded an interview from which ‘soundbytes’ could be broadcast during new bulletins on Saturday 15th.

Wessex FM promoted the Big Fix both in the radio programmes on Saturday and on their website and we were in the Dorset Echo on 2nd February. That’s not all… We worked really hard to promote the event to local Facebook groups we had not used before and delved into Instagram and Twitter posts a little. We are now being followed by Repair Cafes in Sydney Australia and Paris …  Well we needed to be sure that our repairers would be fully occupied during our double length event! The day came – and we were ready for it. 34 volunteers of which 19 were repairers and 15 were putting our usual processes in place to make it run smoothly, with no queues.

Repair cafe volunteers look at a fixed clock

By 40 minutes after we officially opened at 10:30, over 100 items had come through the door. Our repairers were fully occupied and despite, howling winds and lashing rain, 152 of the 156 items were seen.

We witnessed some amazing repairs – a new foot and leg for a tiny wooden doll, a ‘ping pong’ games console from the 1980’s was adapted for display on a modern TV, a gold photo frame with cracks and chunks missing was fully restored, and a plastic ‘Tetley’ teapot clock with sentimental value was repaired.

I am amazed at how far smoothly it all went. We achieved our aims and got new volunteers, and the possibility of 3 more Repair Cafes opening soon. A little more detail follows in Part 2.

Ros Dean

19 February 2020

The Eagle (was fixed and) has landed

OK, so it is not an eagle, but we could not resist the heading. Phil explains what he did ‘There were many faults with this tricky little project. The marble base was broken with chunks missing and an attempted previous repair to a corner that had been glued back in misalignment. The taxman – err sorry, I stand corrected – the vulture also had loose metal dowels drilled into the bottoms of the claws that were being used as fixing pins to the base. These had broken the claws apart and the back part of one of the claws was completely missing…


Quick thinking of how to rebuild the missing part of the claw and looking around to see what was at hand that could possibly be utilized – I decided to use the stirrer to get the basic shape of the missing part then build up in layers with a compound until it looked similar to the other foot.
The marble base was filled and smoothed with the same compound to neaten it up and give it strength ready for refitting the bird…
some glues can take an age to set, but the potions I use are fairly instant. You will have to visit the next meeting and physically read the label to find out what they are..’

Judy and Bernie

18 February 2020

January 2020 Repair Cafe

Volunteers Judy and Bernie would like to share with you their thoughts and feelings about our January Event. Bernie role was to distribute jobs to the Electrical, Electronics and IT repairers and Judy was on Reception with Jane.

We have a lot of happy repairers, form fillers, team runners etc. volunteering with us and here are a few of the things that our amazing repairers fixed.

Musical toy box

Steve Fox ‘of the cheeky face’ had taken a musical toy box home to work on it under less pressure. The doll had toppled and was preventing the moving parts from turning. He cleaned it up and reassembled it. The doll revolves, the soldiers march around the fort, and the top spins!

Although we don’t have the tools to dismantle and reassemble watches, Alan, one of our valued volunteers repaired a Garmin Sportswatch which had been used in the sea. He cleaned the badly corroded contacts and hey presto, his delicate touch paid off!

We saw a Panasonic personal radio cassette player, like the ‘Walkman’ that was fashionable in the 1980’s. Our visitors really like cassette players because you can easily record on them, pause them and resume where you left off. Sadly it had been designed to be unrepairable and our repairer couldn’t open the case without risking breaking it.

The Electrical area was becoming really cramped and busy. Nigel, who runs The Palm House, changed the arrangement of tables which made a huge difference, and Mel, our PAT tester, has now got his own table, in the main repair area.

Mel the PAT rester

Mel also enjoys carpentry, fixing bikes, tinkering with electrics and is great at fixing vacuum cleaners.Here he is happily mending a fire.

Everyone likes a cuppa, and our fixers are no exception (Andrew admits to being a tea bucket). We now have dedicated drinks makers who keep our volunteers happy and the fixers fixing.

Bernie Searle and Judy Luffman