Book binding tools. Photo by Steven Bond.

Exhibition reveals South West's repair industries as threatened and thriving

An exhibition offering a unique insight into the business of repairing everyday objects opens at the University of Exeter on 11 April.

The result of nearly two years’ research by University of Exeter geographers, the exhibition celebrates the South West’s small-scale repair industries, from cobblers, to clock repairers, to tailors, to bookbinders—and even typewriter repairers.

Photographs and text document the creativity and community spirit at the heart of these shops. The research has shown that while mass-production is, to an extent, threatening some of these small businesses, many are thriving. In fact, the recent economic downturn has seen a resurgence of ‘make do and mend’ activity, and renewed appreciation for people who have the skills to fix things.

Simon Oliver, owner of The Menders in Crewkerne, Somerset, commented: "I love taking something that’s reached a point where it's almost to be discarded, and then somebody gets a vision for reinventing its life. And then they bring it to people like us and we've got the opportunity then to actually make it reusable. We're the ultimate recycling industry."

Working with South West-based photographer Steven Bond, geographers from the University of Exeter’s Cornwall Campus have documented 20 shops in Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset. By conducting interviews with shopkeepers and taking photographs of their workshops, the research team built up a rich and detailed profile of the state of the region’s making and mending trades. The team has documented their findings on a blog.

University of Exeter geographer Dr Caitlin DeSilvey said: “We hope this exhibition will spark a dialogue about the value of these shops, and the contribution they make to community cohesion and sustainability.

“Our journey has taken us from the Bath Typewriter Service to an electrical repair shop in Penzance, from a forge in Sherbourne to a cobbler in Redruth. Along the way we have seen some treasures—including a clock from the Crimean War and an irreplaceable bassoon—but it has become clear that even the most mundane objects are often valued enough by their owners to be considered worthy of repair.”

Makers, Menders and Materials: Part 3, an exhibition of 40 images and accompanying texts, is at the Street Gallery, Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter Streatham Campus from Wednesday 11 April–Wednesday 25 April. All are invited to meet the researchers and the proprietors of the shops at a launch event on Saturday April 14, 1.30–3.30pm.

At the end of the project the images will become part of the South West Image Bank (SWIB) based in Plymouth, which is a partner in the study. The research is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Date: 11 April 2012