The Art of Repair

Comedian Stewart Lee narrates a unique and touching insight into life in London’s East End. Hackney has a long tradition of artisan craftsmanship and repair, but in recent years the once familiar landscape of low rise workshops and light industrial buildings have made way for more profitable, high-rise residential dwellings.

The Art of Repair follows the story of four artisans that see their work as a way of life. The changing demographic has been a godsend to some who thrive on the supply of magnificent, bespoke, hand-built instruments and furniture, whilst others struggle to withstand squeeze from manufacturers who promote the built in obsolescence of their products.

This very personal, and sometimes moving story is an honest account from a community that’s lived through change. There’s more behind that old shop door than you might think.

JC Motors

Len and the team at JC Motors | Workshop Stories

In Len’s eyes, they perfected the motor vehicle in 1938 with the original VW Beetle. Since then it’s been about comfort and image. It used to be that every part of a car was built to last, and if something went wrong, it was the job of the mechanic to fix it. Nowadays, a car is built from replaceable components, whereby if one part breaks, an entire module needs replacing.

JC Motors is a family business, only none of the staff are related. The workshop’s namesake, Joe Chi, was Len’s mentor and friend. Joe passed away in 1999. Today Len carries the mantle with a sense of pride and respect that Joe would be proud of, and Len’s staff have the same respect for Len as he did for his mentor. When they’re not hard at work, they like to race it out on the go-kart track (of which, of course, Len is the best), or take time out on a Friday lunch with a big african fish.

TJ Electrics

John and Rose from TJ Electrics | Workshop Stories

T J Electrics is a family run business, with wife Rose out front with the customers, and husband John out back in the workshop. Electrical repair is not something often seen on the high street any more, but for John and Rose it’s always been a way of life. Every new job on the bench is a challenge, and it’s this tireless hunger to complete the job that keeps them on the high street, and in the community. The residents of Stoke Newington are unique in that instead of having to through their old things away, they can opt to have them repaired.

Nowadays the big manufacturers require you to have an account before they let you buy parts, but for indie shops like T J Electrics that’s not an option. Electrical repair is becoming a rare public service, so it’s a mystery why as a society we don’t try harder to protect it. For John and Rose it’s a passion to work that keeps them in business, but once the big corporations have squeezed them out, who will be left to step into their shoes?

Riley Upholsterers

Niel and Thomas outside Riley Upholsterers | Workshop Stories

What Neil says he loves the most about his work is the ability to breathe new life into old objects. He has a respect for the old fashioned craftsmanship, the ageing objects that regularly pass through his doors. Furniture with history, or materials and woods that regulation dictates can no longer be used are given new purpose once he and his apprentice, Thomas, have worked their craft.

Thomas comes from Romania where he learned upholstery to a basic level, and one day knocked on Neil’s door looking for work. Now that Thomas is every bit as skilful as Neil, the duo are thinking about taking on a new apprentice. More than just colleagues, Neil and Thomas have an unspoken understanding that allows them to continue to work in such intimate quarters. After all, Neil spends more of the day with Thomas than his own wife!

Bridgewood and Nietzert

Gary Bridgewood of Bridgewoord and Nietzert | Workshop Stories

The beauty of a violin workshop is something you’ll never forget. Bridgewood & Nietzert have been selling and repairing string instruments in Hackney’s trendy Stoke Newington for decades, but the sense of history accrued in their workshop goes way beyond. Staffed by a truly multinational workforce of talented musical technicians from Itlay, France, Spain, South Africa, Holland, Australia… Although curiously ‘no Americans’!

Since a young boy, Gary always knew he wanted to be a violin maker. His passion for stringed instruments is evident, and his flair for music and the production of sound go further than just technical accomplishment. Getting an instrument to sound ‘right’, doesn’t always mean making it sound ‘perfect’, and it’s this personal relationship between musician and violin that Gary’s team seek to preserve.


  1. Jennifer Akhurst
    Posted 25 Jan 2016 at 10:27:25 pm | Permalink

    What a fabulous and charming film. And what lovely people!

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