Food for thought

Food for thought

Have you ever heard of a community fridge? They’ve been popping up across the country, providing free food and stopping good produce from going to waste. We catch up with the organisers and users of Worcestershire’s first community fridge, which is supported by Co-op

Each year, around 4.5 million tonnes* of food is thrown away in the UK, nearly half of which is perfectly good to eat — yet an estimated 1 in 10** people struggle to access food. So, we’ve teamed up with Hubbub, which co-ordinates the world’s largest community-fridge network, to set up 100 fridges across the UK. They’re in communal spaces where people can also share perishable food like bread, fruit and vegetables, which might otherwise be wasted.   

One of the Hubbub fridges is at Upton Baptist Church in Worcestershire. It was set up by Co-op Member Pioneer†† Ruth Etheridge, whose job is to help make her community a better place, and Reverend Amy Wearing, pastor of the church (pictured below). They collaborated with the Upton-upon-Severn Co-op store to launch the project just before the first lockdown. 

‘We were looking at ways to help local people access fresh, healthy food at the church,’ Amy explains. ‘We’re just down the street from Co-op and they’re deeply involved in the local community, which is why we wanted to partner with them.’ Co-op already had a scheme called Food Share, also designed to prevent food waste, so the branch was keen to get on board.

Many of us have been hit hard by the pandemic, but the fridge has brought the community together, with people meeting up in its cafe. Local mum-of-four Samantha Dodd (main pic) says: ‘We use the fridge a couple of times a week. Although I work part-time as a teaching assistant, and my husband works full-time as a street works inspector, it doesn’t mean that we don’t need a little help with the shopping bill every now and then. The fridge really helps to supplement our shop.’ 

The fridge really helps to supplement our shop and stop food waste, which is something I’m passionate about.

Samantha Dodd, local resident

A top-up shop isn’t Samantha’s only reason for using the fridge. She explains: ‘I go mainly to stop food waste, which is something I’m passionate about. When packaging says food is best eaten by a certain date, I think it leads to a lot getting thrown away unnecessarily. 

‘I’ve gone down to the community fridge before, having no clue what to do for dinner, and have seen things like types of fruit and veg that the children would never usually get to try. Afterwards, we’ve gone home and cooked together as a family to create something new.’

Like many others across the country, the community fridge couldn’t run without its team of volunteers. Retiree Richard Barley explains: ‘I got involved with the community fridge when I met Amy, who’d just joined as the minister here; we found that we had a lot in common in terms of our vision for the local community. When you look at the shortages in other parts of the world, and the food poverty that some of our own communities are experiencing, it’s almost criminal that perfectly good food is just being thrown away!’

Every Wednesday night, Richard (shown above, left) visits Co-op to collect food that would have been thrown away, then takes it to the church. Volunteers there sort it and check it’s safe to eat before making it available to members of the community.

‘The fridge uses up food that would otherwise be wasted,’ he says, ‘and it does so in a way that recognises there are needs in the local community. When you look at a problem globally, it can be overwhelming and you feel you can’t make an impact. But if more people work locally to make a difference, it has a knock-on effect, first nationally, then even globally.’ 

Ruth adds: ‘The scheme has enabled us all to be part of something — to help others and prevent food waste. It’s had a much wider impact than we could have imagined, and will continue to do so. With ongoing funding from Co-op, thanks to its members (see below), we have big plans for the future, including cookery classes and bereavement counselling.’

With ongoing funding from Co-op, our plans for the future include cookery classes and bereavement counselling

Ruth Etheridge, Co-op member pioneer

Contribute to a cause

By becoming a Co-op Member, you can help projects like the Upton Community Fridge. When Co-op Members buy selected Co-op branded products and services, we give 2p for every £1 spent to local communities. This is split between the Local Community Fund and the Community Partnerships Fund. Another 2p will earn you exclusive offers. Scan the QR code today!

The amount raised and given to local causes has been generated from the amount our members earn for local causes when they buy selected Co-op branded products and services from selected Co-op Group businesses. Not available in independent societies including Midcounties, Central England, Southern or Chelmsford Star co-operatives or in non-Co-op-branded stores (eg, Nisa and Costcutter). Exclusions and restrictions apply. See membership terms and conditions at coop.co.uk/membership, on the Co-op app or by calling 0800 023 4708. Costs £1 to become a member. For more details, visit causes.coop.co.uk.


* wrap.org.uk. ** Food Standards Agency Covid-19 consumer research, December 2020.
hubbub.org.uk/the-community-fridge. †† Read about Member Pioneers at coop.co.uk/member-pioneers