They told us a community fridge would not work in Brixton …

The People's Fridge in Pop Brixton

The People’s Fridge in Brixton was formally launched nearly two years ago on 8 February 2017. Here’s an update on what Team Fridge have been up to

It was a difficult start: Lambeth council planning officers told us they would reject an application to house the fridge on Pope’s Road. Our team had looked across central Brixton for a suitable site that had public access, but without success. Pop Brixton offered us site and electricity, strictly on a temporary basis. We are still where we launched that day, open seven days a week.

The People’s Fridge is a judgment free zone – anyone can use it, no questions asked. We really mean that. If you want to bring food or take food, just come on down. All we ask is that you read the rules about what you can/cannot put in, respect that others also use the fridge and sign our blue log book.

The highs:

Sue Sheehan collects from the Fridge
Sue Sheehan collects from the Fridge

We have helped re-home several tonnes of food that might otherwise have gone to the bin. In May 2017 we supported Franco Manca in National Vegetarian Week and found homes for two rooms’ worth of food – several tonnes in just one day.

We’ve had Christmas puddings in June, bottles of ketchup, lots of bread, boxes of vegetables, chocolate, milk, fruit, doughnuts and more. The fridge is unattended, so we don’t meet everyone who uses it.

But the stories we do get are heart-warming: thanks from people who genuinely use the fridge to help ends meet, the families who come down to share their surplus with others. The joy that people get from the fridge just being there encouraging us to share.

We are the inspiration for other fridges: we have been in contact with people all over the UK and in more than 15 countries, all keen to learn about food surplus. Because Brixton is Brixton, there has been significant interest in what our community is doing.

Our team made a decision to leave our own patch and to talk to people about cutting food surplus and waste. We’ve been at Brixton Farmers Market, Myatt’s Fields Fair and Lambeth Country Show and met hundreds of people who want to end food surplus – or sometimes just design their own fridge magnet to remind them to not waste food.

We have been out picking fruit off trees in local gardens (with permission): bags of apples and pears that otherwise would have blown off the tree and probably rotted where they fell.

Support from some local businesses has been fantastic. We make regular visits to our local Sainsbury’s, Pret and Co-op to pick up surplus food, including a late shift every Saturday night. The team at the Ritzy bring us surplus cake. The Old Post Office Bakery gives us bread when they make their delivery rounds.

We’ve had lots of support from veg delivery company Oddbox, Brixton Blend, House of Hygge and many others without whom the fridge just could not work. We get so much cake. That’s a beautiful thing.

Nobody is paid to work on the People’s Fridge. It receives no money from Lambeth council. Our volunteer group of local residents and some traders in Pop Brixton make sure the fridge is open every day, kept safe and clean and in good order. There is no glamour and we have been lucky to have built such a hardworking group.

The lows:

There aren’t many lows, to be honest. Especially at the beginning we went out to hundreds of local businesses, often unsuccessfully, to find who had surplus and wanted to do something about it. Residents and businesses alike in Brixton still waste a lot of food.

Because many people use the community fridge, food that gets put in there is taken within a few hours, which means the fridge is often half full or even empty and looks a bit sad.

We have had a few instances of people coming along with bin liners and taking every single item in the fridge. That’s not great. It happens to every unmanned community fridge at some point.

When we know it is happening we try and speak to the people involved, a tiny minority of what are otherwise careful, considerate users. We were warned that a community fridge would not work in Brixton, that someone would come along and break it or ruin it.

But it has worked brilliantly, even if we wish we could get more surplus food in it.

Before we go:

Nikki Mills of Veollia with competition winner Ollie Dodd and Jo Elliott
Nikki Mills of Veolia (Left) with competition winner Ollie Dodd and Jo Elliott

at the 2018 Lambeth Country Show we ran a competition with Veolia for local kids to draw a design on the theme of food heroes. We are pleased to announce a winner: Ollie Dodd, from Clapham, designed the winning entry.

Veolia have kindly paid for Ollie’s winning design to be printed onto canvas tote bags for people to use to cut down on plastic bag use, or even to bring their surplus to the People’s Fridge. Ollie also won four free tickets to the cinema, courtesy of the Ritzy.

We give out the bags at local events and through some of our local partners. Keep your eyes peeled for a yellow lemon with a cape.

 

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