Community fridges are public spaces where organisations and households can make perishable food that would have been wasted available to the local community.
They are social spaces which help to reduce food waste, build trust locally and normalise the sharing of foods and other household items.
The idea originated in Germany and fridges can be found in other countries including Spain and India. It is Hubbub’s ambition to support 50 community fridges in the UK in the next 12 months. Here are the five steps that we are taking to deliver our ambition.
There was scepticism about the idea when we first raised it. Surely the fridge would be vandalised, the trust system would be abused, people wouldn’t use it – what about health and safety?
We carefully tested our first community fridge in partnership with South Derbyshire CVS. Following extensive consultation with the local environmental health officer and the food safety team at Sainsbury’s, we started with very limited opening hours under close supervision.
Gradually, as confidence grew, the opening hours extended and the community fridge was publicised more heavily in the local community. We closely measured impact, secured feedback from residents and created detailed guidance for other organisations based on our experience.
The initial community fridge proved hugely successful and gave us the concept to extend the scheme. On average, the community fridges in Swadlincote and Camberwell are redistributing over one tonne of food per month and offering job opportunities and food skills to local residents. Furthermore, the community fridges have been hosting cooking workshops and providing a much used social space. Residents have now begun to share non-food items such as nappies and kitchen equipment.
The success of our first community fridge gave confidence to the initial financial backers of the concept – Sainsbury’s, North London Waste Authority, and Bosch – to provide support enabling more to be established across the country. Their leadership made it easier for us to bring in more funding from charitable foundations such as the Rothschild Foundation and The Funders Network plus local authority bodies.
We intend to use this bedrock of support to secure further investment and in the coming months will be announcing new funds that will open up more opportunities for communities to become involved.
We are convinced that community fridges work best when they are developed and run by community groups that understand the needs of their local area. These community groups could be voluntary organisations, religious groups, food banks, etc.
Hubbub is not interested in building our own infrastructure to run the fridges as it would be an expensive, pointless replication of resources. Instead, we want to do all we can to help communities deliver maximum impact with fridges in the locality. This belief underpins the way that we see the network developing.
Our aim is to help local groups run community fridges that are safe, impactful and financially self-sufficient. The support we provide will be informed by a period of listening and research in local communities. We anticipate that it will include guidance on running community fridges safely, financial support, help with creating a strong evaluation framework and support with marketing and promotion.
Ultimately, it is probable that groups will get the best support by sharing information between themselves and Hubbub aims to make this process as easy and constructive as possible. As a start, we will be hosting a community fridge network member meeting this month, bringing diverse fridge groups from all over the UK together.
Crucially we need to ensure that the community fridges have longevity by building a financially viable model. We have already found backers that can make it cheaper for fridges to become established including negotiating a significant discount from Bosch for their fridges.
The bigger challenge is to cover running costs. One way to do this is for Hubbub to build links with national retailers enabling them to donate to their local fridges and to provide financial support for the whole network. We will be opening these conversations in the next few months.
Ultimately, we hope to create a vibrant and financially robust community fridge network which could potentially be handed over to another national charity who are well placed to deliver this support to local communities.
This article was first published on the Hubbub website.