If you haven’t heard of a community fridge, I’ve little doubt that you soon will. These unassuming appliances are popping up around the globe and becoming part of the furniture in community spaces and on street corners. 

First started in Berlin circa 2013, community fridges are a temporary home to unwanted food, be it surplus from retailers, eateries or households. The idea is that those who have no use for an item of food can see it go to someone who does. Money is saved and less food is consigned to the bin. Don’t panic, fridges come with rules and food safety regulations fit for their host community. 

The concept is simple but the implications are huge. At Hubbub, we trialled a community fridge in 2016 as a part of Sainsbury’s Waste Less, Save More campaign in Swadlincote. A fridge was opened in Frome just weeks before, and Brixton will have its own any day now. Within 4 months 1.3 tonnes of food was exchanged in this small Derbyshire town, reaching 277 individuals and 11 community organisations.

The fridge and accompanying freezer in Swadlincote began life under lock and key, being highly regulated by the CommunityVoluntary Service managing the local food bank. After fears of misuse and vandalism were allayed a second fridge, open to anyone and everyone, was launched. Food has moved through it at a rate and heartwarming stories have been collected in the fridge’s guest book. 

“Even though I’m working, had large bills to pay, so helped me feed myself this month."

“It’s a good idea, it’s nice to know people care” 

Comments from the Swadlincote Community Fridge guest book.

Although it’s early days, we can see the fridge taking root in the community and forging relations between the local businesses, organisations and householders sharing food. Reports from other founding fridges indicate that users across Europe are happy with the system and are getting to know and trust others in their neighbourhood thanks to the fridge. 

A further 10 fridges are planned over the next 2 years (5 in 2017, 5 in 2018). Four fridges have been chosen but our ears are pricked for further communities wanting to take part in this trial. Sainsbury’s have made a small pot of grant funding available to support set-up costs. 

While the first fridges are showing strong signs of reducing food waste, which is unfortunately on the rise in the UK, we’re also keen to explore their wider implications. What can community fridges offer in these tough times? Not in terms of handouts - because food waste is not the solution to poverty and poverty is not the solution to food waste - but in terms of strengthened communities? In a time of growing inequality, we hope that these fridges will continue to increase trust locally and build a spirit of sharing. We will do all we can to foster this spirit. 

Our ambition is for community fridges to become hubs of community and sites of food education, skills, knowledge and goods sharing; to be a first step towards food co-ops, community owned energy, gardens and beyond. 

How would you find a fridge in your community? Share your thoughts, keep an eye on the trial or get in touch to find out how a fridge could come to a corner near you.