Uckfield Community Fridge – how it works

Who first thought of the idea of the community fridge and when?

The first community fridge in the UK was opened in Froome in 2016 and in 2017 it featured on Jamie Oliver’s Friday Night Feast TV programme which by a happy coincidence one of our Directors, Amy Fieldhouse, was watching.  At the time she saw this as a good idea and one that was very repeatable but children and working as a nurse largely left it as thought until mid 2019, when Amy decided to investigate the possibility of setting up a similar project in Uckfield. 

Volunteers, Uckfield Community Fridge

How long did it take from initial concept to opening?
From starting to investigate setting up the Fridge in mid 2019, it took just over two years to fully open on 9th October 2021.  This was partly as a result of the global pandemic but also it was due to the fact that the team wanted to ensure it was set up correctly and sustainably.  To begin with it was just Amy and she had to gain traction with the local community through articles, radio interviews and a social media campaign in order to convince the Town Council and local businesses that this was a concept that could work in Uckfield.  During this journey from concept to reality Uckfield Community Interest Company was formed and wonderful support was received from a wide range of local businesses and charities.  It is impossible to pick out one individual supporter as they all contributed vital support in order to reach the opening date, so please see below a full list of our founding friends:

  • Uckfield and District Lions Club
  • Uckfield Town Council
  • Uckfield Food Bank
  • Southern Co-operative
  • Loxfield Masonic Lodge
  • Sussex Community Foundation
  • 3VA
  • South Brockwell Farm Shop
  • Thorne Group
  • Southeast Communities Rail Partnership
  • Waitrose Uckfield
  • Tesco Uckfield
  • 123 Sign Shop, Lewes
  • Uckfield Men’s Shed
  • Brighter Uckfield
  • Standen National Trust Garden
  • H and H Produce Ltd
  • Isfield Farm Shop
  • Ridgewood Carpentry and Construction
  • Hubbub Community Fridge Network
  • Uckfield College
  • The people of Uckfield who have generously donated to the crowdfunding appeal.

Since opening the fridge has received a five star food hygiene rating from the Environmental Health Officer and in its first six months has redistributed 6654kg of food to 2689 households. 

Is the fridge a sideline to the Food Bank?
The fridge is not a side line of the Food Bank.  We are located close to the foodbank and certainly work in partnership with each other to direct Uckfield residents to each other’s offerings but we are distinctly different.  The Food Bank is there to provide short-term, emergency support with food during a crisis so is focused on food poverty whereas the Fridge is to redistribute surplus food to stop it being wasted so is focused on sustainability.

Critically at the fridge we cannot guarantee from shift to shift what food will be available so it could not be considered to provide a sufficient and balanced diet to address food poverty but it certainly helps. 

Is the community fridge only open to those on benefits or who else?
The fridge is open to absolutely everyone and whilst there will be users who do have a need for food, we are very keen that everyone uses the fridge to reduce the stigma associated with getting food for free and also to ensure that no food goes to waste.  We ask absolutely no questions and try very hard to encourage everyone and anyone to use it.

When is it open?
We have been opening 10-12 on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday and have recently started opening 4-5.30 on a Wednesday to try and reach some different fridge users.

How does the system work and what does it stock?
We have developed relationships with a number of supermarkets (Tesco, Waitrose, Co-op and Aldi), as well as a number of independent businesses (farm shops etc) and typically our volunteers will collect food that the business deems as surplus at a pre-arranged time and to align with our fridge opening hours.  We do also receive a weekly delivery of food from a charity in Brighton called Fareshare which collects surplus food from a wide number of businesses and then redistributes to local charities.  This food will always be food that is either close to (but not past) its use by date or just past its best before date (note best before is to do with quality as opposed to use by which is safety-related) and taken to our shipping container located in the bottom of Luxford Fields car park adjacent to the source building.  It will then be checked by our shift volunteers, sorted and suitably stored ready for opening. 

Within the container we have a large commercial fridge for fresh produce (such as fruit), shelving for ambient goods (bread and tins), buckets for flowers (we do get a lot!) and we will shortly have our replacement commercial freezer which will allow a wider variety of products to be collected and frozen to ensure use by dates are maintained.  In addition to the organised donations we encourage individuals to donate food (provided it meets our requirements which is typically unopened packets of best before goods or home grown fruit and vegetables) and have had some wonderful donations from local allotment holders.  Finally we are very lucky that a local wholesale greengrocer, H and H Produce Ltd, regularly donate straight from market vegetables and fruit so we often have some wonderfully unusual items to redistribute.

Whilst the contents of the fridge varies as it depends on what food is surplus we would typically expect to have fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, bread, pastries, limited dried goods and sometimes some most wonderful bunches of flowers adding colour! 

When the fridge is open it is staffed by two volunteers and users wait in turn to come in and select what they would like.  We try to encourage each user to only take one shopping bag full to allow the food to be shared round and at present we are averaging between 50 and 60 different households coming during the two hours we are open.  The food is absolutely free and whilst an unusual concept in this world where there is always an exchange we expect nothing in return as this is all about reducing food waste – scarily a third of all food purchased in the UK ends up being binned rather than eaten!

What plans does it have for the future?

We are excited to be expanding our external space over the next few months, we are installing a shed which we are sharing with Brighter Uckfield (https://brighteruckfield.com/) and are planning to install a planter (to be built by http://uckfieldmensshed.org.uk/) in which we will try and grow some herbs for sharing with the community.  In addition we are seeking to put in a seedling exchange as a lot of local residents have approached us with the offer of baby plants and some outside café style seating to allow the community to sit and talk whilst they wait their turn.  At the moment our opening hours are limited by the quantity of food donations and volunteers but we are always looking to expand both so we may increase our opening hours as well.  We are always open to new ideas and are excited as to how the fridge might evolve over the next six months following a very successful first six months.

If you would like to be a guest blogger, or you would like me to interview you, please contact me  sue@sjemarketing.co.uk or call 01825 761890. All articles are free.

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