Man on a mission who is life and ‘sole’ of shoe repairs

Shoe repairer David Lee hard at work in his new shop on Outram Street, Sutton-In-Ashfield
Shoe repairer David Lee hard at work in his new shop on Outram Street, Sutton-In-Ashfield

After Brexit, the hottest political potato at the moment is plastic pollution.

Even the Prime Minister herself, Theresa May, has vowed to wage war on plastic waste that causes so much damage to the environment, particularly ocean wildlife.

Shoe repairer David Lee at his new shop on Outram Street, Sutton-In-Ashfield

Shoe repairer David Lee at his new shop on Outram Street, Sutton-In-Ashfield

Sutton businessman David Lee has never met the PM. But he has had a chinwag with the town’s MP, Ben Bradley, and should Mrs May ever bump into David, she had better tread warily -- literally.

For Mr Lee is a cobbler, who has passionate advice for all politicians about shoe repairing and how its status as a dying art could be causing as much danger to our planet as every plastic coffee-cup or plastic shopping-bag that is discarded.

“It is a real bugbear of mine that we are being told shoes can no longer be repaired,” says 38-year-old David, who owns The Cobbler shop on Outram Street.

“More and more big-chain shops, and even some small, independent ones, are telling their customers shoes cannot be repaired, which is a problem for the environment

“People are taking it at face value that repairs can’t be done, they tell their friends and the message becomes poison to the trade.

“Fewer and fewer people are getting their shoes repaired, so more and more are just throwing them into the dustbin when they are damaged, and they go to landfill.”

Hence they contribute to the waste crisis, says David, particularly as so many modern shoes and boots have plastic moulded units on them.

“During my time in the trade, I have also noticed the quality of shoes has got worse, so people don’t even bother with repairs,” David goes on.

“My message is there is no repair that cannot be done. Even when it might cost too much to rebuild a shoe, the uppers can often still be recycled. There are recycling bins for shoes not only at many cobblers’ shops but also at supermarkets.”

Since David’s chat with Mr Bradley, the MP has promised to write to the Environment Agency to see if a scheme can be introduced that encourages shoe repairs.

It’s fair to say that David is very much the life and ‘sole’ of shoe repairing. His desire to revive the technique reflects not only his concern for the environment, but also his dedication to a trade he first entered about 16 years ago after a spell as an office administrator at the Palace Theatre in Mansfield.

“Doing shoe repairs was just a way of paying the bills to start with,” he reflects. “It was something I never really grasped that I could make a career out of. But one day, I realised that I had to knuckle down, or get out and do something else.

“I started to take more pride in what I did and realised that I was half-decent at it, so I put everything I had got into it.”

The archetypal self-made man, David started off as a trainee with Peter’s Shoes, who have stores in Chesterfield, Sheffield and Nottingham. Eight years ago, he was appointed manager of Quality Shoe Repairs on Regent Street in Mansfield. Then, he was successful in shoe-repairing competitions, finishing fifth in a UK event and as high as third in a world event, held in California. And last year, he opened his current shop in Sutton, which he owns.

“I wanted to own my shop to prove that there is always a solution with damaged shoes,” says David, a single man who was born and bred in the Ladybrook area of Mansfield.

“Business is up and down at the moment, but it always takes time to establish yourself.

“I haven’t asked any customers to follow me from Mansfield, but some have. I have even had Internet orders because of my apparent reputation as a guy who is top-notch at what he does.”

David says the secret to his success is “attention to detail and caring about what you do”.

“Customers want a good job that is going to last,” he says. “And I will tackle any kind of footwear, even trainers. Not a lot of people know trainers can be repaired, but the old soles can be stripped off and new ones put on.”

David is also a deeply religious man, who has helped to set up a prayer group in Ladybrook, where he still lives.

But his Christian faith is matched by his faith in shoe repairing as a traditional skill that remains as relevant now as it ever was. Are you listening, Mrs May?