At the Network of Wellbeing, our vision is of people and the planet thriving together. We achieve that by connecting people, supporting projects, and inspiring action. While researching further projects for us to support, our project manager, Mirella Ferraz, looked at the impact Community Fridges are making and the challenges they face. Here are her inspiring findings.
Globally, a third of all the food produced is wasted. Meantime, over 4 million people in the UK live in food poverty. Community Fridges present a simple way to address these problems locally by redistributing food that is edible, but which would otherwise be thrown out because it doesn’t meet supermarket standards or has an imminent expiry date. This avoids a great deal of waste and supports people to access food for free.
Community Fridges are usually set up in places where a lot of people walk by and are run by volunteers, perhaps with a small grant to pay a part-time coordinator. They are unstaffed – anyone can simply help themselves to what’s on offer.
Following a variety of different models, Community Fridges promote a spirit of sharing and collaboration within a community while stopping about one to four tonnes of surplus food being wasted (for each fridge!) every month. For instance, the Community Fridge in Frome, Somerset, the first one in the UK, was created by the school for social enterprise, Edventure, in partnership with the local town council. They converted a disused public toilet block in a central car park and offer refrigerated food and a variety of breads, which anyone can take.
Another model we visited is in Tavistock, Devon. The Tavy Fridge was funded by LiveWest Housing Association and set up in partnership with the local library. It makes it convenient for people to access food as well as donate homegrown fruit and vegetables. About 50 people make use of the project every day.
Finally, we went to visit the Community Fridge in South Brent (Devon), which is installed in the community hub at the Old School Community Centre. This fridge is open 24h, and is also very popular.
The growth in Community Fridges, which now number over 300 across the UK, and their ‘open to all’ ethos, has provoked concern in some quarters that food distributed through them would be better diverted to food banks catering to those most in need. Evidence from Hubbub, the national charity promoting Community Fridges suggests almost two thirds of Community Fridge users are in genuine need; others are motivated by a desire to reduce food waste.
With careful design, however, it seems possible for Community Fridges to complement alongside food banks, so as to minimise food waste and help those in food poverty.
Find your nearest Community Fridge here.
See here if you want Hubbub’s helpful guide on how to set one up.