When Heritage Mending Meets DIY Repair

By Daran Qin

Photos courtesy of Thea Christopherson

If your office chair is broken, will you repair it or throw it away?

Repair Cafe 1

Our table (lower left) at the UCL Repair Café event, held in the main quad of the University.

Last month, some of the MSc 1 Conservation students joined the UCL Repair Café project to advocate repairing and reusing what we already own. Choosing to repair damaged everyday objects is not only fun and environmentally friendly but also reclaims the memories associated with them. Let’s be honest, who hasn’t got a priceless treasure that others may see as meaningless and useless? It might be a childhood memento, an ornament made and given by a friend, or a charm that you’re certain brings you luck. It is the stories behind the objects that connect us to them.

As conservators, we just broadly love objects. Their associations with people, society, events, and ideas attract us and are significant to us when making decisions about repair. By mending the objects, we aim to recover both their functional and emotional values, even as we write ourselves into their biographies. Different from purely functional DIY repair, however, heritage mending requires carefully considering relationships, sometimes at the price of sacrificing functionality.

Repair Cafe 2

Thea and Dean teaching an unsuspecting member of the public.

For the Repair Café, we created a scene of “Theatre of Conservation”. Fully equipped with white lab coats, goggles, gloves, masks, and mysterious analytical instruments, we presented ourselves as the wizards of heritage, offering to share our secrets with Muggles. Two chairs were set up for distinguishing “professional heritage repair” from “hasty DIY repair.” Another two chairs were on the stage in order to give the public the chance to experiment with our analytical instruments and to understand the ways that conservators assess the condition and significance of objects.

Repair Cafe 3

Letting everyone know we mean business.

From the conversations we had, it seemed there was awareness of the benefits of repair and reuse for the environment and curiosity in the difference between conservation and DIY repairs. People showed particular interest in getting to practice conservation techniques themselves under our supervision.

This was just the beginning. In the future, we are going to organize more events to share our enthusiasm for objects and showcase the professional skills of heritage mending. Many people signed up to our contact list, expressing interest in attending our future events to learn ways that conservators undertake heritage mending.

What is your impression of conservators? Scientists who can deal with complicated chemistry problems or artists who are able to understand history and society? We are proud of being both. Want to step into the magical world of conservation? Come and join us!