Smiling people in a vegetable garden

Co-op has just partnered with Hubbub to build community resilience and provide food to those in need

You’re sure to have heard of Co-op. But have you heard of Hubbub? Voted Charity of the Year at the Charity Time Awards in 2020, Hubbub promotes environmental education and community-led activism. Its community fridge network brings people all over the UK out into their neighbourhoods to participate.

The community fridge idea grew from a desire to reduce food waste. However, from the outset, it has been about more than just food sharing. Community fridges are also about building community, sharing skills, and supporting the environment. They are spaces where people can share surplus food, host activities, and exchange stories.

Hubbub already coordinates the world’s largest community fridge network. But the new partnership will allow the charity to grow its web from 150 at the start of 2021 to 250 by the end of the year. In fact, Hubbub opened 15 more community fridges in May alone.

Much of a community fridge’s food comes from local food retailers. But growers, restaurants, and even households can contribute too. Positive change is at the heart of Hubbub’s mission. And the organisation says resilient communities play an essential role in this change.

How does a community fridge build community resilience?

But when the pandemic hit, community fridges became less about communal activities and more about providing emergency food to those in need. “We’re now trying to ramp up our resilience-building activities,” says Tessa Tricks, Hubbub’s senior creative partner.

Perhaps the most important work Hubbub does these days is to provide cooking on a budget workshops and advice on debt management. But fun and laughter are still important. There is no way of dictating what food comes in, and there are many stories of members trying new fruits and vegetables and experimenting with different styles of cooking.

“It has definitely brought people together,” says a spokesperson for Leytonstone Community Fridge. “Those who have food items, skills, time, or money to give are doing so”.

Is a community fridge the answer to food security?

“Food surplus is not the answer to food security,” says Tricks. “What’s needed is welfare and employment”. But community fridges certainly have a part to play. There is no doubt that Hubbub is having a massive social and environmental impact, as people start to question the food chain and come together to create solutions. In some areas, members have united to create community gardens, dinner clubs, and more.

Many of the fridges have been a lifeline for families living on the brink of poverty over the past year. And while social distancing has been the dominant narrative, people are now realising the real importance of resilient communities.

What about corporate social responsibility?

“Corporate social responsibility has become more of a hot topic in recent years,” says Tricks. Collaboration is a hugely important part of Hubbub’s strategy. And more and more companies now see the value of collaborating with such organisations.

Co-op has given 100 grants of £4000 which pay for insurance, cleaning supplies, and volunteer expenses for new fridges. And it is also supporting Hubbub’s established fridges, making possible a range of new workshops and other community-led schemes.

The funding has gone on to support some of the interest that was already there, turbo-charging the movement. And as the public becomes more literate on the subject, you can expect to see more positive change happening. To find a fridge near you, check out the online map.