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 fridges in Brixton and Camberwell were soon to follow. Sparked by media contributions, including involvement from Jamie Oliver, a surge of interest followed.

Hubbub have since launched a Community Fridge Network to support the various groups around the UK wanting to bring Community Fridges to their localities. The Network helps groups to share  experiences, develop their ideas and provides robust guidelines on running a safe and efficient fridge. By the end of 2017 there will be at least 22 fridges open within the UK and an estimated further 21 are in the pipeline for next year.

The impacts of Community Fridges are not to be underestimated. Within 6 months of opening 2,290kg of food was exchanged in the small Derbyshire town of Swadlincote, with over 800 visits from individuals and 12 community organisations. Urban fridges such as the one in Camberwell are seeing 1.4 tonnes of food moving through a month.

The fridge and accompanying freezer in Swadlincote began life under lock and key, being highly regulated by the Community Voluntary 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. 

75% of visitors to the Old Street Community Fridge said that it had made them want to share more with their neighbours and the same number again have said that the fridge has helped them feel connected to the community. Many groups host community cooking classes or meals using what’s found in the fridge, and provide visitors with valuable information on how to save money and food in their own kitchens.

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? See who's a member of the Community Fridge Network, 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.