Edinburgh repair shop boom sparked by David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II documentary

IT was the series that delved below the ocean waves to expose the harmful effects of plastic pollution on our marine environment.

By Beth Sexton and James Delaney
Tuesday, 12th March 2019, 7:52 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th March 2019, 9:37 pm

And now, Blue Planet II is being credited with leading a sustainable revolution in the UK as consumers shun new products in favour of repairing their own.

Businesses mending household goods are booming, with the number of premises growing by more than a third since 2010, according to official figures.

Furniture restoration shops and home appliance repairers are on the rise, while the number of cobblers’ outlets is holding steady amid tough trading conditions for the UK high street.

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Steph Bowring at the Edinburgh Remakery. Pic: Lisa Ferguson

Retail analysts say consumers have an increasing appetite to ‘make-do and mend,’ but business owners have credited the David Attenborough-narrated documentary with changing customer attitudes towards ‘broken’ goods.

The household repairs industry is now worth an estimated £3.9bn to the UK economy, the highest value since records began in 1990, with nearly 10,000 business units across the country.

The rise of the smartphone has seen the number of phone repair shops in the UK more than triple since 2010, data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows.

But other fix-it businesses are also doing well, the figures suggest.

The documentary prompted several companies to change their practices when disposing of waste, including setting targets to ban single use plastics.

Cobbler Ian Hutton, who has been repairing shoes from his shop on Elgin Terrace for 40 years, admitted he has seen a recent rise in trade, adding that customers were increasingly aware of their own environmental impact.

Ian, 58, said: “You can tell that a lot of customers have been influenced by Blue Planet when they come in, they don’t want any plastic bags.”

“When I started, they said it was a dying trade, but we’ve managed to keep going. There are a lot of cheap shoes available, but if people choose to buy good quality shoes they’re more likely to get them repaired. People are definitely wanting to keep things going a bit more these days.”

He added: “It’s a mixture of old and new customers, we still have people my Dad’s age coming in but then also new customers who find us on Google.”

The number of repair shops across Edinburgh rose by almost a quarter between 2010 and 2018, while they more than doubled in East and Midlothian in the same period.

Nationally, almost 200 additional repair shops have opened across Scotland in that time.

Retail analyst Richard Hyman said the growth was a “reflection that the consumer economy is clearly not in good shape in Britain” as people tire of the latest gadgets.

He added: “I think the appetite to make-do and mend rather than to buy new is clearly an underlying factor in the economy.

“We have got the idea of ‘peak stuff’, which is a bit of a fashionable idea and a bit overused but is probably no less true for being so.

“With mobile phones in particular, there is the built-in obsolescence of mobile phones where you are instructed to constantly download ‘improvements’, in inverted commas, which are basically designed to slow your machine down and oblige you to buy a new one.

“The fact people rail against that a little bit is not that surprising.”