Reality leaves a lot to the imagination

Published on December 13, 2016 in Updates

Remade in Edinburgh won Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award in October. Sophie Unwin, Founder and Director is excited about the next steps – to share the idea with other places and create a network of repair and reuse centres across the UK. She tells us about the challenges and what she’s planning next!

The seam on my skirt split this week. It was a new skirt, and I really liked it. I think it split – in three places! – when I work it over leggings to a yoga class. Luckily for me, I had an option – I visited the Edinburgh Remakery – the centre that Remade in Edinburgh opened this year – as a customer! Sewing tutor Gillian Drummond quickly put me at ease, showed me how to thread the sewing machine, and demonstrating a straight stitch and zig zag stitch to make the skirt as good as new. On the next bench along, computer tutors Mario di Fillipo and Sotiris Katsimbas are helping other visitors with laptop and phone repairs – someone has a broken screen and someone else’s machine is just running slow. Sotiris points out it needs a good clean to stop the processor over-heating. There’s a group of happy customers waiting for service, and browsing our affordable second hand furniture and computer kit while they wait their turn. From the volunteers at the welcome desk, to the staff behind the scenes, the whole experience was brilliant, and I felt so proud of the whole team and also to be part of the community which Remade in Edinburgh serves.

This year has been an incredible year for us – we opened up the Edinburgh Remakery, welcome a whole new community of fixers, started up two new partnerships, tripled our turnover diverted to waste from 70 to 250 tonnes, tripled our employees from three people to ten, increased our business income to 60%, and in November, to crown it all – won the School for Social Entrepreneurs award – Social Entrepreneur of the Year! The whole community has really got behind the idea of a reuse and repair centre which teaches practical skills in the community and also campaigns for goods to be built to last in the first place.

When we look back to our beginnings, five years ago, it’s nice to reflect what a long way we’ve come! In 2011 the idea got off the ground with £60 and a group of volunteers who I’d met as part of the local Transition Edinburgh South Group. This had been fertile ground to incubate the proposal of setting up Remade in Edinburgh – helped too by the fact that the idea had roots in Brixton, where as part of Transition Town Brixton, and with my colleague Hannah Lewis, we’d come up with the concept of Remade in Brixton. I’d been inspired by living for a year in rural Nepal and creating less than a dustbin of waste in a year, and then coming back to South London and seeing the number of people out of work but with useful skills and thinking about the potential to create a centre which created new business around repair education.

Now with the Remakery in  Brixton and the Edinburgh Remakery (the name ‘Remakery’ being a brilliant brain-child of Hannah) both flourishing I’m excited about the next steps – to share the idea with other places and create a network of repair and reuse centres across the UK.

Remade in Edinburgh won Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award this year after a gruelling process: we were shortlisted down from 220 original applications to 40 social enterprises on the School for Social Entrepreneur’s Scale Up Course. After a further application, we were shortlisted to 10 individuals, and then after a panel interview to a further five, and then the winner was decided by public vote.

The fact that we won I think showed the strength of support for our vision – communities from as far afield as Kent and the Isle of Mull have been in touch to see if they could work with us. We’ve had interest from Glasgow, York, Doncaster, Manchester, Cornwall, Devon and the Scottish Borders too, and we’re talking to Edinburgh Council about how we can grow impact in the city and make waste prevention a strategic priority – recycling is great but doesn’t necessarily decrease the overall amounts of waste created. The £10,000 prize money will help seed a new organisation – REMADE – that will offer training to other communities so that they can set up their own repair businesses. Operating as a social enterprise itself, REMADE will be able to create a network so that the different communities can share resources and amplify their campaigning voices for change.

We face great challenges at the moment – the huge inequality and divisions thrown into relief post the EU referendum, and a consumerism which is still careering out of control, but for me that’s all the more reason to invest in a concept which can build community, create green jobs, and cut waste. To give some context – 60 billion kilogrammes of fabric were consumed last year, and it took 132 million metric tonnes of coal to produce this: but on the other hand repairing computers creates 100 times the jobs as simply recycling them. So there’s everything to play for.

John Lennon said: “Reality leaves a lot to the imagination”, and if we want to see a new reality I firmly believe we have to imagine it first. Remade has helped me remake my own life in my move from London to Edinburgh. I love the scale of my new city and the fact that I can see beyond its edges to the land where the things we produce, consume, and dispose, ultimately come from.

For more information on the Edinburgh Remakery

To find out more about our social replication plans contact

Sophie Unwin is offering a popular workshop ‘Inspiring Change’ for organisations interested in exploring replication on Tuesday 17 January 1.30-5pm (£65/50 concessions).