Re-use, repair and recycle; a way out of recession

The value of the pound against the Euro, dollar and most other major currencies has hit rock bottom. Unemployment is rising. Stock prices have crashed. Pension funds look ropey. Saving rates are dismal; even Premium Bonds look like a poor bet. House prices have slumped. It’s all doom and gloom. Or is it? Could there be silver, or even a copper lining to this very dark cloud? Is there light at the end of what feels like a very dark tunnel?

Maybe the prevailing conditions will serve to reinforce our appreciation of our individual places in the global village and the interconnectedness that increasingly binds us together; financially, environmentally and socially. If so, what might that mean for our behaviour? Will we increasingly “act locally, think globally”. Will “fair trade” buying become more meaningful than a snappy guilt-ridden label? Will consumers increasingly “reuse, repair and recycle”?

A Cumbria-based company that specialised in the repair of technical outdoor clothing and equipment recently went bust. They were outstanding at what they did. They once repaired my favourite pair of salopettes that were sliced up around the ankles from skiing (bad technique I know). They unstitched the damaged panels and replaced them with thicker Cordura ones and returned them to me as good as new – if not more fit for purpose – for £15. I don’t know why they went under but I expect that not enough people knew about what magic repair work they did.

I’ve been running a broad range of commercial outdoor-related courses for 20 years (ski courses, expeditions and medical courses) and I’m thinking of adding a new course to my portfolio; “How to fix and service all your outdoor toys”. I could easily fill a dark winter weekend with fascinating practical topics for the multi-sport outdoor aficionado. I’d start with the basics, like how to clean and re-proof your Gore-tex clothing and shoes. Then we’d move on to making minor fabric repairs and sewing 101. It’s easy; I made my own belts, stuff sacs, a rucksack, gaiters and climbing breeches before I was 20. Then we’d look at sharpening ice axes and crampons (by hand, never with a grinder which ruins the temper of the metal). Whilst we’re dealing with sharp things we may as well discuss how to sharpen and wax skis and re-gluing touring skins, Then it’s on to bikes; how to perform a basic service, change brake blocks and cables, chain maintenance and repair, greasing and oiling. I’d get an expert in to discuss climbing ropes, harnesses, helmets and hardware; how to clean gear, how to spot dangerous wear and tear and when to retire stuff. If time permitted I’d also like to discuss stove maintenance (a personal favourite).

I’d hope to attract not only gear freaks, but others who just lack a bit of confidence and knowledge in how to look after their own equipment without resorting to paying a shop technician to do it or worst still, neglecting their kit to the point where it becomes uneconomical to repair and has to be replaced. I’d encourage students to bring all the outdoor kit they no longer want with them and we’d practice all these new skills and service what was salvageable and donate it to a worthy youth group, ski club or porter protection group.  I’d go so far as to guarantee that students will quickly recoup the modest course fee. We’d drink some real ale in the evening and have an “open mic night” (maximum 5 slides each to tell a travel or adventure story). After, we’d keep in touch via a new Facebook group and build a community of outdoor people willing to share their top repair tips.

Maybe this course will engender a greater sense of independence too. My students will organise more adventures themselves and not through guide bureaus or expedition companies. The premiums they’ll save will fund even more adventures or the replacement of genuinely worn out kit. As a frugal mentality really takes hold, those who would normally stay in a hotel for their Scottish winter walking will book a B&B. Those who use B&B’s in the Lake District will use youth hostels (no daily chores any more!). Those who normally hostel will camp. You get the trend.

Reuse, repair and recycle could just be the mantra that helps us all climb out of the current financial abyss and reduce our impact on the environment without curbing our time in the hills. That would make me feel good at a time of great fiscal unease.