As part of Sainsbury’s Waste less, Save more campaign the town of Swadlincote in Derbyshire was selected as a test-bed for a wide range of experiments to cut household food waste. One of the most interesting ideas explored whether an ‘Honesty or Solidarity’ Fridge, which has proved successful in Spain and Germany, could work in the UK.

The Swadlincote version sponsored by Bosch is called ‘The Community Fridge’ and aims to redistribute food that would otherwise be wasted. It gives local residents free access to surplus produce, helping families save money and reduce food waste. It can only work through trust and honesty.

First indications are that people are willing to play ball. Since July, 1,388 kg of food has been re-distributed. Over this period five key lessons have been captured.

1) Location, location, location

For public safety and practical reasons it is essential to house the Swadlincote Community Fridge in a trusted and supervised location. The Swadlincote fridge is installed in a lockable building in a community garden, giving the public drop-in access whilst simultaneously allowing for regular monitoring.
Working with the local food bank has allowed the Community Fridge to be known quickly to local networks and groups.

2) Safety first

Strict monitoring guidelines are essential to ensure the safe operation of the Community Fridge. To reduce the risk of contamination, clear instructions are displayed to guide the process of signing food in and out, based on advice from South Derbyshire Environmental Health and the Food Standards Agency.

Food donations are restricted to ‘non-potentially hazardous foods’ and high risk food items such as meat, fish and unpasteurised milk are banned.

3) Collaboration is key

The Sainsbury’s store, local bakeries, health clubs and FareShare are among those providing surplus food to Swadlincote Community Fridge. Collaboration with food sharing platform OLIO and the Council has helped engage local businesses.

Linking up with local organisations has enabled the Swadlincote Community Fridge to deal with large quantities of food and gluts of surplus. The fridge now serves 11 groups that provide vulnerable members of the community with nutritious cooked meals. Recipients have tried more unusual fruit and vegetables, such as grapefruits and avocados for the first time.

4) Trust is everything

A significant challenge has been securing commitment from local businesses. Barriers include concerns over food safety, social value and impact on sales. Many businesses will only donate surplus to charitable organisations, and are wary of food being freely available to the general public. Businesses that are part of larger franchises or chains either do not have the authority to commit or have pre-existing charity partners.

The Community Fridge does offer businesses the opportunity to contribute to positive social impact and support the community if they are willing to stick their head above the parapet. It also provides a free service to them, reducing the amount of waste they might otherwise pay to dispose of.

5) Embed it in the community

The sustainability of the project relies on management roles and responsibilities being embedded into existing roles in the community, or taken on by volunteers. The Swadlincote Community Fridge is being integrated into the local food bank so that it can operate with minimal funding.

Where do we go from here?

Our ambition is to build on the learnings from Swadlincote 2016 and trial Community Fridges in 10 new locations over the next two years. There is potential for the concept to be adapted according to the needs of each area. We think Community Fridges can serve as another way that surplus food can be distributed, creating stronger communities and proving that trust is still in place in the UK.

If you are interesting in collaborating on the Community Fridge Project please contact us: Trewin [@] hubbub.org.uk.