How The Repair Shop restored the lives of its craftsmen from homeless Jay Blades to grieving leathersmith Suzie Fletcher

WITH its never-ending supply of tear-jerking stories, TV’s surprise hit looks set to overtake Coronation Street in the ratings.

The Repair Shop returns to primetime this week and since the show began in 2017, its team of expert craftsmen and women have already fixed 700 broken family treasures and given them a new lease of life.

But inside the now-famous 17th century thatched barn, the programme which attracts nearly seven million viewers is also restoring the lives of some of its stars.

Leather expert Suzie Fletcher tells The Sun how being in The Repair Shop mended her broken heart following the death of her beloved husband.

Suzie, 60, who worked in the Royal Mews preparing the Queen’s own saddle and making harnesses for State coaches, went to live in America and fell madly in love with a cowboy.

She says: “Three weeks after arriving there we met. Three months later I married him and ended up staying for 22 years.”

Suzie and her husband lived on a ranch north of Denver, Colorado, until he died of cancer five years ago.

At the time, her older brother Steve, The Repair Shop’s watch and clock mender, flew to America to be with his devastated sister.

Suzie says: “After my husband died we had three major deaths in a very short time in our family. Emotionally, physically and mentally I was done.

“So I packed up my life and came home. It was a dark time.

“Five weeks later I reluctantly came to the Repair Shop and it was absolutely meant to be. Listening to the stories members of the public tell, I felt that I wasn’t alone.

“There is a warmth and a love in the barn that is very safe.

“You feel like you can say anything here and nobody is going to judge you and what they will do is they will wrap their arms around you.

“It is a great place to be so it has helped me and it continues to help rebuild my life. I’m supposed to be here.”

It was Steve, 64, who told TV bosses that Suzie would be perfect for the show.

He was in the first ever series, which aired on BBC2 in 2017. The show then became such a favourite with viewers of all ages that it moved to BBC1.

Steve now keeps a brotherly eye on Suzie from his clock repair bench in the draughtiest, coldest corner of the barn.

Suzie 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 that took me under his wing and he has always been there. We are very, very similar.”

Steve, who followed their dad and grandfather into the clock repair business in Witney, Oxfordshire, says: “I’m pleased I was part of getting her on to the show. It has been really good for her.”

When a battered rocking horse came into the shop after owner Paul Yates had died from cancer, Suzie was so was overcome with emotion that she burst into floods of tears and had to be cuddled by Steve.

She says: “I felt like I’d been hit by a sledgehammer when I discovered Paul had written his name beneath the saddle.

“He did it when he and his wife had all their dreams and plans ahead of them, only to have them snuffed out in the same way they were for me and my husband.”

Steve remembers: “It was emotional seeing my sister being overcome because she’d lost her husband in the same way as the contributor.”

Recently a woman from Wales brought in a Texas cowboy’s saddle for repair, which again brought Suzie’s memories of her lost life in America flooding back.

She says: “The woman had gone to America on holiday and ended up falling in love with a wrangler, a cowboy. She ended up buying this Western side-saddle which was part of her dream of a life in America.

“Unfortunately it didn’t go the way it was planned. She came back and brought the saddle with her.

“While I was working on the saddle all these memories came back about what I had gone through and I could relate really strongly to the woman’s dreams of what she had hoped it was going to be like.

“I remember my dad saying to me, ‘The older you get, the more emotional you get’. Because you have learned the value of life you appreciate even fleeting interactions with another person. You may never see them again but there is huge value in that moment.

“You can genuinely relate to the people stood in front of you showing their story. And as much as you are focusing on their story, your own is very much coming to the surface. It can be very emotional.”

Steve reveals that often when owners are handed back their treasured item restored to its former glory, every person in the barn is in tears.

He says: “I remember one of the crew, a boom operator, a lovely chap who had to keep his arms in the air to hold the microphone. He had tears rolling down his cheeks, it was so emotional.”

Host Jay Blades and the experts — Steve, Suzie 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 for 51-year-old Jay in the six years since his business failed and he became home-less, living for a time in his BMW.

The Repair Shop team helped him reassemble his life too.

Jay says: “At that time I needed a family to support me and that’s what they did.

“As we’re working on the show we start to talk to each other about our lives and that in turn then helped me to get back to who I am.

“That’s why I love being here. It’s a hard slog, it is really, really hard but the family make it a joy. When you have got your family round you it is easy.”

The barn is so old yet the experts — who have 600 years of experience between them — are not allowed to fix the famous front doors or draught-proof the eaves that let in the cold winter winds.

No heating is allowed so the team keep warm with two hot water bottles each that are hidden from sight.

Brenton West, who is regularly mistaken for clock repairer Steve, is another who has a lot to thank the show for.

He had been struggling to survive as a silversmith. But four years later his business is booming, thanks to the programme.

He says: “I tried so hard to make a living. I made brochures, I knocked on doors. I stood at shows and only sold one thing.

“Now, with six or seven million people watching, the phone never stops ringing with people wanting me to fix their things.”

Wednesday’s episode features the oldest family treasure ever to be taken to The Repair Shop.

The pile of what looks like broken drainage pipes turns out to be a 2,000-year-old terracotta statue made in China’s Han dynasty.

Ceramics restorer Kirsten Ramsay says: “It was a real weight of responsibility having something of that age in the barn.

“I’m used to dealing with pieces that are quite old from when I worked at the British Museum, but everyone in the barn was absolutely terrified when they realised how old it was.

“They stepped back and said, ‘we’re coming nowhere near your bench’.”

Jay sums up the show’s appeal: “Some people compare Repair Shop to the Antiques Roadshow but I don’t, because you can’t put a price on someone’s emotions.

“If someone has an item, say a little plastic toy that means everything to them, where do you get that valued?

“It’s impossible. The only place it is really valued is in their heart and at the Repair Shop, because we treat every item as if it is priceless.”

  • The Repair Shop returns to BBC One on Wednesday at 8pm. Catch up with previous episodes on BBC iPlayer.

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