Clare Seek is one of our #PlasticHeroes. She founded Portsmouth’s Repair Café and Plastic Free Portsmouth. And secured the city’s Plastic Free Community status.
Clare explains why she’s taking action on plastics and how the Portsmouth community can get involved.
Why are you passionate about sustainability?
When I had my first child, I was shocked by the amount of stuff that I was told I needed to buy. So I started to try and connect with more neighbours to be able to share things. I’d become aware of the impact that our purchases have on others around the world, and the world itself. I knew I couldn't add to those problems.
When I had my second child, I went on a bit of a waste journey. I eliminated as much waste from our household as possible. Single-use plastic was the main thing leftover — it’s very hard to avoid. I learned about the damage that plastic was doing to our seas and land, not to mention the need to reduce our reliance on oil. After that, I explored ways to share and repair in my local neighbourhood to reduce plastic usage.
What is the Portsmouth Repair Café and how can local people get involved?
When I discovered Repair Cafés I thought they were an amazing idea. They were started by a woman in the Netherlands who gathered neighbours together who were good at repairing things. She then invited neighbours with broken items and the magic began. It's since spread across the world and I kept thinking, why don't we have one in our city?
A post appeared on my Facebook feed to mark the original Repair Café's eighth birthday and I thought... let's see if others are interested. I created a Facebook group, posted it in every neighbourhood and community group that I knew of in Portsmouth. Within 24 hours I had 200 people showing an interest. A few weeks later I had 20 people crammed in my house working out how to get it started. A few months later we ran our first event.
We're currently running a monthly event (every third Saturday of the month) with people who are good at repairing electricals, jewellery, bikes, clothes, toys, computers and more. People bring their broken things, and we teach them how to fix their items. It's about connecting people with their belongings and not just doing it for them. People learn new skills, from sewing on buttons to clearing blockages in vacuum cleaners and more.
There’s a great sense of fun and community. Every time something is fixed, we ring a bell and find out what it is and celebrate. We had a period of being shut due to COVID-19, but restarted this June. You now need to book in for repairs so we don't get overcrowded or have the packed waiting room that we used to have. We're hoping to start more Repair Cafés across the city, and have been supporting others to get started across the Solent region.
If people are interested in helping, they can visit the website and fill in the volunteer form. We're always looking for folk who are good at repairing items, as well as those that are happy to help organise, welcome visitors and make cups of tea.
What inspired you to set up Plastic Free Portsmouth?
I launched Surfers Against Sewage's Plastic Free Communities campaign in Portsmouth. It seemed the perfect opportunity to link in with addressing the issue of single-use plastic across the city. It helped me not just be an individual on a mission, but to connect with a recognised organisation which opened doors into businesses, schools and the community.
We had a steering group that involved the City Council, University, businesses and beyond. In 2021 we gained 'Plastic Free Community' status as a city. It doesn't mean that we're single-use plastic free, but it does mean a lot has been achieved and we're well on the way to making massive changes.
Working with small businesses who had little time or additional resources, yet really cared about the issue and made changes was inspiring. Spending time in schools across the city with very passionate children was great fun — they were full of great ideas and pushing for change.
What do you think individuals and communities can do to tackle the plastics crisis?
As with many things in life that seem like mountains, the key is to start taking steps to climb it, and not worry about sprinting to the peak. I often talk about the journey that I've been on. We can often feel immobilised if we face the whole situation face on.
The question to ask is: what can I do this week or month in my home, workplace, school, community, neighbourhood? Think about the next thing you need to buy (at home or work). Do you really need it or could you do without it, borrow it, hire it? Or could you buy it second hand? And finally if you need to get it new, can you get it locally and without plastic?
That won't always be possible, but remember that as a consumer you can put pressure on companies to do things differently — tweet them if the packaging is excessive, complain if a products breaks yet can't be repaired, sign petitions around #RightToRepair. When you spend money on something that's used Earth's resources, it's not good enough for it to not be repairable. We should have the option to sustain its use and ultimately reduce plastic waste.