Repair shop trains jobless Londoners

Don't throw away that broken chair or toaster, say the organizers of London's new community workshop where currently 20 young unemployed persons are being trained to repair electrical appliances and restore old furniture. They ask that residents just send those possessions to them.

The chairs, tables, electric mixers, and other household goods which are brought to the Brass Tacks Workshop in its newly-restored building near Dalston Junction in North-East London are repaired and then returned to owners who are handicapped, elderly, or housebound, or else put on sale in Brass Tacks' own shop.

The idea to set up the Brass Tacks Workshop came from the Mutual Aid Centre whose chairman, Michael Young, also launched Britain's Consumers Association. The Mutual Aid Centre has started several projects in Britain, including a motorists' cooperative for do-it-yourself repairs, study trains for commuters, and a parent-teacher cooperative school.

The Brass Tacks Workshop is intended to become something more than a convenient job-training facility and repair station for consumer goods which might otherwise be thrown away. Its planners expect it to develop into a one-stop multipurpose service: Unwanted furniture and bulky electrical appliances are to be collected from local residents who may be having difficulties dumping them; the reconditioned goods are to be sold in the shop at reasonable prices; there will be a call-out service for housebound persons in Dalston who need small-scale repairs; and there are to be open evenings when the tools and facilities are to be made available to local residents to their own household repairs under expert supervision.

The planners expect the venture to pay for itself and perhaps make a profit.

For the time being, the funding is partly through the local authority under the Urban Aid Programme and partly through the Manpower Services Commission which is interested in skill-training and work experience, especially for unemployed youth.

The students are mostly in their early twenties. When they first arrived, they helped to restore and redecorate the workshop. Now, they're beginning to learn the intricacies and the satisfactions of stripping and upholstering, French polishing, and testing.

Robin Dean, manager of the workshop, says that though he's anxious to rescue things which might otherwise be discarded, he doesn't want to exclude more valuable goods. "Often, that's where they can learn most."

The trainees will spend a year in the workshop, on a salary which is part student grant. They will work there under supervision but will also attend day-release classes. Eventually, they will have a marketable skill which should enable them to find a job, even in an area of high unemployment. Skilled craftsmen are always at a premium, all the more so since employment legislation has provided so much job security that it has made many companies reluctant to recruit apprentices.

Participants are apparently enjoying their work. Antonia Yeo, the only woman on the staff, travels three hours a day to manage the shop. She says she wants to improve her French polishing whenever she's not actually wanted at the counter. And Nixon Findlay, who has had several previous jobs which taught him "nothing except fiddling about," looks up with a broad grin from the upholstery padding he's fixing. "I haven't missed a day since I started here," he says. "You'd be robbing yourself if you did, wouldn't you?"

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