With its endless supply of tear-jerking stories, TV’s surprise hit is all set to beat Coronation Street in ratings.
The Repair Shop returns to primetime this week and since the show debuted in 2017, its team of expert craftsmen and women have already fixed 700 broken family treasures and given them a new life.
But inside the now famous 17th-century thatch barn, the show, which attracted nearly seven million spectators, is also restoring the lives of some of its stars.
Leather specialist Suzy Fletcher explains how living in a repair shop healed her broken heart after the death of her beloved husband.
Suzy, 60, who worked at the Royal Muse preparing the Queen’s own saddle and harness for the state coaches, moved to America and fell in love with a shepherd.
She says: “We met three weeks after we got there. I married him after three months and lived for 22 years.”
Suzy and her husband lived on a farm north of Denver, Colorado, until she died of cancer five years ago.
At the time, his older brother Steve, a clock and watch repairman at The Repair Shop, moved to America to live with his devastated sister.
Suzy says: “The death of my husband was followed by three major deaths in our family in a very short time. Emotionally, physically and mentally I was done.
“So I packed up my life and came home. It was dark time.
“Five weeks later I reluctantly came to the repair shop and it absolutely had to happen. Hearing the stories told by members of the public, I felt I was not alone.
“There’s a warmth and love to the barn that’s so secure.
“You feel like you can say anything here and no one is going to judge you and what they will do is they wrap their arms around you.
“It’s a great place so it has helped me and it continues to help rebuild my life. I have to be here.”
It was Steve, 64, who told the TV owners that Suzy would be the perfect fit for the show.
He was in the first series, which aired on BBC2 in 2017. The show then became such a favorite with viewers of all ages that it moved to BBC1.
Steve now keeps a brotherly eye on Suzy from his clock repair bench in the coldest, coldest corner of the barn.
Suzy says: “Steve has always been my rock for as long as I can remember.
“There are four of us kids and, for some reason, Steve was the one who took me under his wing and he always has been. We are very, very similar.”
Steve, who follows his father and grandfather into the watch repair business in Witney, Oxfordshire, says: “I’m glad I was a part of getting him on the show. It’s been really good for him.”
When a battered rocking horse came into the shop after owner Paul Yates died of cancer, Suzy was so overcome with emotion that she burst into tears and had to hug Steve.
She says: “When I learned that Paul had written his name under the saddle, I felt like I had been hit with a hammer.
“He did it when he and his wife had all the dreams and plans ahead of them, only to erase them as they were for me and my husband.”
Steve recalls: “It was heartbreaking to see my sister beat me because she lost her husband the same way the contributor lost her.”
Recently a woman from Wales brought a Texas shepherd’s saddle for repairs, which again brought back Suzy’s memories of her lost life in America.
She says: “The woman went to America on vacation and fell in love with a wrangler, a cowboy. She ended up buying this western side-saddle that was part of her dream of life in America.
“Unfortunately it didn’t go the way it was planned. She came back and brought the saddle with her.
“When I was working on the saddle, all these memories came back to what I went through and I could really relate strongly to the dreams of the woman she expected it to be like.
“I remember my dad telling me, ‘The older you get, the more emotional you get’. Because you’ve learned the value of life, you appreciate even a fleeting conversation with another person. You may never see them again but there is great value in that moment.
“You can really relate to the people who stood in front of you showing your story. And the more you’re focused on their story, the more your own is coming to the surface. It can get very emotional. “
Steve reveals that often when owners are handed back their valuables to restore them to their former glory, everyone in the barn is in tears.
He says: “I remember one of the crew, the boom operator, a lovely guy who had to put his arms up in the air to catch the microphone. Tears were running down his cheeks, it was very emotional. “
Host Jay Blades and the experts – Steve, Suzy and seven other regulars – work non-stop from February to November to produce 50 episodes in the barn at The Weald and Downland Living Museum in West Sussex.
Life has changed a lot in six years for 51-year-old Jay as his business fails and he is temporarily homeless in his BMW.
The repair shop team also helped her in reconnecting her life.
Jay says: “At that time I needed a family to support me and that is what they did.
“As we’re working on the show, we start talking to each other about our lives and this in turn helped me go back to who I am.
“That’s why I love being here. It’s a tough slog, it’s really hard, but the family enjoys it. It gets easier when you’ve got your family around you.”
The barn is so old, yet experts—among whom there are 600 years of experience—are not allowed to fix the famous front doors or draft-proof the eaves that let in the cold winds.
No heating is allowed so the team stays warm with two hot water bottles that are hidden out of sight.
Brenton West, who is regularly mistaken for watch repairman Steve, is another who has a lot to thank for the show.
He was struggling to survive as a goldsmith. But four years later, thanks to the program, his business is booming.
He says: “I tried hard to earn a living. I made brochures, I knocked on doors. I stood at the show and only sold one thing.
“Now, with six or seven million people watching, the phone never stops ringing that wants me to fix things.”
Wednesday’s episode features the oldest family treasure ever taken to The Repair Shop.
A pile resembling a broken drainage pipe turns out to be a 2,000-year-old terracotta sculpture made in the Han Dynasty of China.
Ceramics restorer Kirsten Ramsay says: “Having something of that age in the barn was a real load of responsibility.
“I’m used to dealing with fairly old pieces since I worked at the British Museum, but everyone in Bern was absolutely horrified when they realized how old it was.
“They turned back and said, ‘We’re not coming anywhere near your bench.
Jay summed up the appeal of the show: “Some people compare a repair shop to an antiques roadshow, but I don’t, because you can’t put a price on someone’s feelings.
“If someone has an item, say a little plastic toy that is everything to them, where do you get the price for that?
“It’s impossible. That’s the only place they really value in their hearts and in the repair shop, because we treat everything as if it’s priceless.”
- The Repair Shop returns to BBC One on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. Catch up with past episodes on BBC iPlayer.