Community Fridges have captured the nation's imagination and are springing up in communities across the country.

Since Hubbub set up the Community Fridge Network in 2017, we have received an average of 50 enquiries a month as interest from individuals, community groups, businesses and media has grown. However there is growing confusion about how Community Fridges differ from Food Banks, and the role the fridges should play in addressing food poverty.

We thought it would be useful to outline how Community Fridges differ from the vital role Food Banks currently play, and why we think it’s important to frame them differently.

A growing demand

Many of the groups contacting us want to set up Community Fridges to support people who are struggling to put food on the table.

This doesn’t come as a surprise. With inflation of food prices, welfare freezes, and cuts to support services it’s no wonder that those who are just about managing are beginning to really struggle.

“Even though I’m working I had large bills to pay, so it helped me feed myself this month.” – Swadlincote Community Fridge User

The number of people needing emergency food provision has been rising. The Trussell Trust, one of the largest Food Bank networks, reported that between April and September 2017, it gave out 586,907 three day emergency food supplies, a 13% increase on the same period last year.

The level of demand for the Community Fridges reveals the fault-lines in UK society, and a lack of action being taken to address the root causes of poverty.

The need for an exit plan

Food Banks currently are a vital life-line solution within a broken system, but most people would rather they didn’t have to exist.

It’s our belief that food poverty needs to be remedied by changes in policy, and political will is needed to come up with an ‘exit plan’ for UK Food Banks. We need a bold government ambition of a future where emergency food provision is no longer needed.

In contrast, Community Fridges are set up to be a longer-term feature of a community, are not means tested and are open to all. They bring people together to see good food be shared and eaten, instead of going to waste.

The vision for Community Fridges

Members of the Community Fridge Network say that making the fridge open to all promotes inclusivity and dignity, with anyone being able to give as well as receive. As well as food sharing, Community Fridges give people opportunities to contribute through volunteering, learning new skills, or sharing their existing skills. Our hope is they pave the way to a more sustainable approach to food insecurity, as well as being a gateway to other community services and activities.

‘Many of those involved in our project are passionate about the fact that it is for EVERYONE. We don't judge; we want everyone to be a part of it. And there is a feeling that we avoid any 'stigma' being attached to taking from the Fridge’ – Helen, Frome Community Fridge

Although it may sound surprising, ultimately we want to reduce the amount of food coming into the fridge from retailers – as we think more needs to be done to tackle issues of oversupply and unnecessary surplus generated from stores. However there will always be food to be shared within a community and a role for a fridge, especially during times of seasonal gluts.

We’re keen to explore what community can fridges offer in tough times - in terms of strengthened communities. Our bold ambition is that Community Fridges become social spaces and sharing hubs for other belongings, food education, enterprise and much more.

The benefits of this approach are manifold, and could extend beyond providing people with easy access to fresh nutritious food and reducing food waste, to impacts on health and wellbeing and reducing social isolation. As the Community Fridge Network grows we will continue to encourage people to frame them in this way; and build a culture around them that is warm, welcoming and for everyone as they become embedded in communities across the UK.