Engineering students from the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) will open a ‘repair café’ at the university’s Frenchay campus this year, thanks to funding from the Royal Academy of Engineering.
The MAKERS project - Making And Knowledge Exchange for Repair and Sustainability - will aim to improve representation and belonging in engineering for women and people from Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic groups, alongside those from underrepresented backgrounds.
The students will work closely with local community groups in Easton, Eastville and St Paul’s - drawing on their experiences of establishing successful repair cafés in their areas - with the aim of opening a café in the university’s School of Engineering in October 2023.
Working alongside these community members, sharing and exchanging skills, and using UWE Bristol’s engineering equipment, the project will create a student community of repair and make links to the wider Bristol community repair movement. They’ll help solve problems and fix broken goods, upskilling those involved in the scheme and supporting the circular economy. The repair café will run until May 2024 and will build on previous UWE Bristol STEM partnership projects in the city.
Dr Laura Fogg-Rogers, UWE Bristol Associate Professor for Engineering in Society, said: “We’re looking forward to launching the MAKERS project with communities in Bristol, thanks to the funding from the Royal Academy of Engineering. Every year, we throw away huge amounts, even items which have very little wrong with them, which could easily be used again after a simple repair.
“As well as being better for the environment and promoting sustainability, this scheme will save people money, share repair skills that are being lost, and bring the local community together.
“For UWE Bristol, it offers our diverse engineering students the opportunity to add value to the area by working together in a purposeful and practical environment and to develop peer support and friendship. They will gain practical skills and informal mentoring by working alongside inter-generational community members, recruited through Bristol Repair Café network and industry STEM Ambassadors.”
The Royal Academy of Engineering awarded nearly £90,000 to the project from its Diversity Impact Programme, which aims to inspire change within university engineering departments. The programme provides funding for schemes that transform the experiences of engineering students from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds.
Kat Corbett is a volunteer at the repair café at The Old Library in Eastville. She said: “We are delighted to be part of the MAKERS project, which not only addresses the climate crisis, but also the lack of diversity in engineering. Our monthly Repair Café has become well established since we first set it up early in 2022, showing that there was a real demand for it: people do not only come to get their items fixed (many of which have a very sentimental value), but also to learn new repair skills, or simply enjoy a cup of tea in the café whilst waiting for their turn. Our repairers have also formed a real community and regularly support each other with the repairs. There is immense social and environmental value in the Repair Café movement, and we are excited to be working with UWE Bristol to help grow it further.”
The UWE Bristol engineering students will also be working with Baggator in Easton. Stuart Phelps, Chair of Trustees, added: "This is a brilliant opportunity to share skills, build links, and repair things people value. At a time when so many of our friends and neighbours are struggling to make ends meet, MAKERS will help them by giving new life to valued things; make new friendships between the University and Easton; and remove things from landfill. A real, living, example of the circular economy where it’s needed most."
The UWE Bristol MAKERS project is designed to give the students an increased sense of belonging and for them to grow more passionate about pursuing an engineering career.
Women make up only 16% of engineers, and those from minority backgrounds make up only 7% of engineers in employment (Engineering UK, 2020). Research indicates being part of a minority may mean students feel out of place, isolated, or unable to reveal or fulfil their complete identity – - resulting in lower recruitment rates, degree non-completion, lower salaries, and ultimately higher rates of leaving engineering , .
STEM activities which draw on wider societal or environmental purpose (communal goals) are more attractive to women –. Maker projects have been shown to improve identity and agency in STEM for black men and encourage engagement for other minorities –. This sits alongside the Climate and Ecological Emergency, with our students indicating a desire to make a difference locally e.g. through our Enactus and Engineers without Borders societies . Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has isolated all students with a resulting rise in mental health issues. Communal creative activities generate a psychological state of ‘flow’, which has therapeutic benefits to alleviate mental health issues–.
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