Not many daytime shows can boast audiences of more than two million, but The Repair Shop was no ordinary daytime show. A crossover hit long before the pandemic, it moved to primetime last year where even its repeats found a loyal audience, an astonishing, heartening seven million of whom tuned in for the 2020 Christmas special. With the pandemic, however, its time truly came: a show of much-needed warmth and positivity in anxious, uncertain times where the concept of “make do and mend” applies as much to our mental health as to any physical possessions.
Jay Blades knows this more than most. The cornerstone of The Repair Shop has joined forces with Dominic Chinea, his friend and Repair Shop craftsman, for a new daytime series, Jay and Dom’s Home Fix. Doubling the presenters of last year’s Jay Blades’s Home Fix, it will keep the focus on DIY and up-cycling tips, but the pair are under no illusions about its importance in lockdown.
“If I’m not in the workshop, it doesn’t feel right,” says Blades. “If I’m not making something, it doesn’t feel good. I think in this current time, everybody needs to feel that sense of achievement. If you make something, your mental health will benefit. It could be something really small, but every day you will have a gentle reminder that you have achieved something.”
Chinea agrees, emphasising how the journey of the restoration matters just as much as the end product. “It could be as simple as repainting something. It doesn’t have to be perfect, if the corners don’t quite line up or you can see the brush marks. It’s character. When people come over, you can show them and make people proud of these pieces, instead of throwing them out and buying replacements. Maybe it’s a bit wobbly, but it still creates these romantic stories.”
Away from the cameras, the pair have been following their own advice, tinkering with their own restoration schemes in their respective workshops, away from the concerns of the outside world. Chinea describes his as “organised chaos”, the workshop home to “three rusty old cars and two rusty old motorbikes” awaiting rejuvenation, although one project is close to completion after almost a year.
“I bought a Vespa at the very start of lockdown in March and I’ve almost finished it now. I’ve had the same satisfaction and the same feelings we’re saying people will have from making their own shelves. It is really rewarding.”
Depending on how long the lockdown continues, Chinea might be able to begin rebuilding his dream car – a Porsche 356 A. “I bought it a few months ago; it’s a huge project and I shouldn’t have bought it. I’ve wanted one since I was about 15 years old and it’s now sitting in the workshop. It makes me smile, even though it’s a wreck and is sitting there with flat tyres and no doors. It’s just like the Flintstones’ car. I just sit in it sometimes.”
Blades is chuckling away, recognising that impulse to rescue works of art either abandoned to time or condemned by fashion. “A bit like Dom, I buy stuff that I shouldn’t be buying. I’ve got a workshop that’s quite big and then down below… [He starts laughing again] I have storage space, which is almost as big as my workshop and it’s full of furniture. It’s like my little orphanage down there and, when I get a chance, I work on them.”
Yet that’s not the only upholstery Blades gets up to in his workshop; it’s also a space where he enjoys cutting some rug. “When I go to the workshop, I’ll put the music on and have a dance for about half an hour. And then, if I fancy, I’ll do a bit of work. But if I don’t, I’ll have another dance.”
Chinea chips in immediately: “It explains a lot. It’s why he never gets anything done!” When asked which genres fire up the Blades of glory, he replies: “You name it, I’m dancing to it. I sometimes dance to classical music. I have a little waltz – I don’t know if I’m doing it right, but I have a little waltz.” Chinea nips in to smother Blades’s chances as Fred Restoraire: “Jay, this is not going to get you on Strictly.”
“What you’ve got with me and Dom on Home Fix is the real banter that sometimes we don’t see in The Repair Shop,” says Blades. Chinea has a different view: “I put on a big act while filming it and Jay’s obviously believed it.” The pair share a big laugh before Chinea is able to continue. “Partly because of COVID it was a small team, so it felt like just two mates problem-solving and muddling through work.” The energy between them, says Blades, introduces a new dynamic: “It’s almost as if you’re watching a live show because of the fun we’ve had in making this. What we’ve done to paving slabs is genius…”
Part of that fun – and perhaps even some of the muddling through – came out of devising builds and creating hacks that don’t require an armoury of tools: critical to viewers like me, still recovering after recently plunging a Swiss Army knife blade into my thumb while fixing an item of furniture no more complex than an egg cup.
“We made sure everything was achievable – when we were going to make a clothes rail, my mind was spinning,” laughs Chinea. “I suggested how we could fold or bend or weld this stand, and Jay said, ‘Whoa, whoa, hang on. Nobody’s got all of that kit.’ The most complicated tool Jay uses is a drill.”
Viewers, Blades clarifies, won’t need to hire an arc-welding kit. “Dom is an unbelievable craftsperson; he has a tool for every job. Dom was building skyscrapers, and I said, ‘Dom, let’s tone it down a little bit with the tools. Just go back to a hammer, a screwdriver, a drill, maybe some glue.’”
Above all, both Home Fix and The Repair Shop underscore the restorative powers of, well, restoration – even for those not always able to undertake the work themselves, as Blades points out. “The other day, I made two members of our community – our society – honorary members of The Repair Shop. One of them was a man in his 90s. His granddaughter contacted me and said, ‘He recently had COVID and is out of hospital, but we don’t think he has much time to live. Could you potentially send a video message?’
“I contacted the granddaughter and we FaceTimed her grandfather,” he continues. “When I made this man an honorary expert, all the family on the call were crying. I was crying. I recently received a text telling me he’d passed away, but the family were over the moon with what we did.”
Viewing figures aside, Jay Blades and his series could teach us all something about the simple power of compassion and creativity.
Jay and Dom’s Home Fix starts Monday at 3.45pm on BBC One. If you’re looking for something to watch in the meantime, check out our TV Guide.