Jay Blades, the frontman for the The Repair Shop, which is filmed in Singleton near Chichester, talks dyslexia, disasters and DIY 

On paper, a TV show about a workshop that repairs broken household items doesn’t seem that entertaining but, since it first aired in March 2017, The Repair Shop has become one of the BBC’s most successful programmes.  

Now watched by more than seven million people per episode, the show sees members of the public bring their broken possessions to a workshop in the heart of the South Downs to be repaired by a team of 11 experts that includes frontman Jay Blades, clock expert Steve Fletcher, antique furniture restorer Will Kirk and ceramics conservator Kirsten Ramsay.  

Each week, Jay, 52, welcomes a variety of guests into The Repair Shop, which is based in a barn at The Weald and Downland Living Museum, in Singleton, to share touching stories about their heirlooms. The experts then get to work restoring the item, before it is reunited with its owner in scenes that inevitably pull on the heartstrings. 

But while this certainly makes for heart-warming viewing, according to Jay, The Court Barn, the main setting for the show, has more of a chill factor. 

‘People probably don’t quite appreciate how cold it is filming in winter. We film in a listed building that was set up to store food so it’s not the warmest of venues’ says the presenter who had a difficult upbringing in Hackney and became homeless in his 20s after splitting from the mother of his first child. ‘You may well notice Steve [Fletcher] getting bigger as the series goes on because he keeps putting on layers underneath his shirt. We all have two hot water bottles each to stay warm during takes, and a vest that you plug in to heat up.’ 

Jay was spotted by TV producers after setting up a charity called Out of the Dark, teaching disengaged youngsters to renovate old furniture. London furniture store, Heal’s, began to sell the charity's restored pieces, which made headlines in the national press - and got television bosses interested.  

His first appearance was on the BBC's Money for Nothing show, which involved presenters, including Sussex-based Sarah Moore, salvaging an item from a recycling centre for him to restore. After seeing him, execs from production company Ricochet approached Jay to present a new show they were making, The Repair Shop

Jay now lives in Wolverhampton but travels to Sussex to shoot the show, where he stays in a hotel in Chichester for weeks at a time while filming. The tight shooting schedule means he has little time to venture beyond the confines of The Weald and Downland Living Museum but Jay does enjoy exploring the picturesque 40-acre site, which is home to a collection of re-erected historic rural buildings and showcases heritage farming trades and crafts. 

‘We start filming at 8am and finish at 7pm so it’s pretty full on and there’s not time for much more than dinner back at the hotel in Chichester and then bed,’ he admits. ‘But at lunchtime we usually walk around and chat to the people who work there, such as Andy [Robinson], who works with the horses. 

 ‘I like looking at the different buildings too, there’s one particular one that has a loo jutting out of the side [Bayleaf, the iconic timber-framed Wealden Hall House], which I’ve always thought is so strange: that people used to go to the toilet and it would drop down into their garden!’ 

Great British Life: Jay Blades believes people can be repaired as well as furnitureJay Blades believes people can be repaired as well as furniture (Image: Paul Marc Mitchell)


It’s not just general members of the public who walk through the doors of The Repair Shop with their family heirlooms. The show occasionally features VIPs and celebrities, such as His Royal Highness King Charles, who appeared on the show as part of the BBC’s centenary celebrations, last October and handed over pottery made for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee and an 18th century clock, and Dame Judi Dench, who brought in a broken watch belonging to her late husband, Michael Williams.  

‘When you get famous people like that come in and are just in awe of the show, it’s a really nice thing,’ Jay says. ‘But the guests are all so unique, there’s not one story that’s exactly the same as another, so I love that people all over the country give us their items and trust us with the things they’ve got – it’s really special.’ 

It’s clear from the way Jay speaks that he is as passionate about people as he is about furniture, and believes that just as items are repaired, restored, and rejuvenated on The Repair Shop, so can we.   

‘I’ve only been in TV for the past six years, but I had a life before that – I mainly did community work and with that you’re always trying to inspire people to do something different, to broaden their horizons,’ says Jay, who was awarded an MBE for his services to craft in May 2022. ‘And that’s what I want to do when I’m on TV, I want to make a change with the influence I have. There are people out there that are suffering, some in silence, and I want to show them that if I can do it then they can do it too.’  

Jay has spoken openly about his own struggles, both with mental health and dyslexia, which went undiagnosed as a child, meaning that he didn’t learn to properly read or write until recently. He documented his journey for BBC’s Learning to Read at 51, which aired in 2021, but prior to that only a handful of people knew about his illiteracy. 

‘Only one person knew on set and that was Kirsten [Ramsay],’ he admits. ‘She used to help me by telling me about the emails that came through from the producers because she knew couldn't read them.  

‘I did the documentary to inspire people, to show them that you can make a difference even if you have a vulnerability, whether that’s reading or mental health.’ 

Last year, with the help of a ghost writer, Jay wrote a memoir, Making It: How Love, Kindness and Community Helped Me Repair My Life, and he has recently published a home improvement book, DIY with Jay

‘When it comes to DIY, I think people are often stumped and then upset with the end results. There are so many beautiful pictures in glossy magazines and on social media of people sharing what they have achieved that when yours doesn’t look like that, it can be disappointing,’ he says ‘But when you’re just starting out, you have to be realistic. Some of my first DIY jobs were rubbish. No one is born an expert, and everyone will have had a DIY disaster somewhere down the line.’ 

From choosing the right wall plugs to tiling the bathroom or revamping those old dining room chairs, the book is a fool proof guide to doing it yourself, interspersed with tales of Jay’s own DIY escapades. 

‘I remember when I was learning woodwork for our charity, Out of the Dark, I rubbed down and painted this desk and the teacher pulled out the drawer in the desk and asked if I knew what the little sign was inside,’ he remembers “It turns out it was quite an important designer from the 1900s and the desk was worth in the region of £30,000 but I’d probably reduced the value to £3! 

‘Luckily for me, I used water-based paint so I was able to rub it down and it didn’t cause too much damage, but I learnt from it and I’d never do something like that again. 

‘I want people to understand that fixing stuff is quite simple and everybody starts somewhere.’  

DIY with Jay: How to Repair and Refresh Your Home is out now, published by Bluebird, RRP £20. All episodes of The Repair Shop are available to stream on BBC iPlayer. 

Great British Life: Jay's new book tackles DIY in which he's had a few disastersJay's new book tackles DIY in which he's had a few disasters (Image: supplied)