In 2017 The Old Bath House and Community Centre in Wolverton with the help of environmental charity, Hubbub Foundation launched the 4th community fridge in the country and the first in Milton Keynes. A community fridge is a space where residents and businesses can safely share unwanted food that would otherwise be thrown away. The success of the first community fridge in Milton Keynes led to other MK communities to adopt the model and join the Community Fridge Network.
Just two years later, Milton Keynes had the highest density of community fridges in the country. Community groups running community fridges faced challenges keeping volunteers engaged at their venues, fluctuating supplies of surplus food and the cost and unsociable nature of food collections needed a solution to help their projects. MK Community Fridge Co-ordinators decided to collaborate to pilot a new idea, Food Connect. A project aimed to test the use of a professional team of couriers, zero emission (electric) vehicles and a central point for retailers and groups to make the process of collecting and sharing food more efficient and increase the impact that their projects have for their visitors.
When the pandemic took its grip and lockdown was enforced in 2020, Food Connect was in its seedling state. Food businesses faced growing challenges with the continually changing circumstances that enforced businesses to close creating lots of additional food waste. Meanwhile community buildings were unable to open and only one of Milton Keynes’ community fridges were able to remain open and share food. Our town faced a growing food waste issue and the team recognised a demand to get good food safely to households that needed it. With initial plans adapted to meet the need to access healthy surplus food at home the team setup up a temporary delivery service to residents’ doorsteps. This provided shielding and isolating residents with a link to the outside world and a welcome home for otherwise unwanted food. The teams’ efforts were recognised with a 2020 Global Good Award.
In September 2020, Food Connect Milton Keynes launched its fully operational zero-emission surplus food redistribution service to support 4 community fridges and pilot the idea to tackle the issue of the final mile. The six-month pilot produced impressive results and an impact report for the project outlined the benefits of the new model.
Now in its second year of operations Food Connect Milton Keynes supports 8 community fridges and a number of other community organisations to share good quality healthy food to over 1000 households every week. Creating green jobs, improving air quality, reducing food waste, supporting communities all with no negative environmental impact has demonstrated the success of this approach. Food Connects’ team of local couriers operate an electric van and three e-cargo bikes collecting food from retailers and taking it to the nearest community fridge to share with its local residents. This simple model has proven its positive impact. In its first year it created 6 new green jobs, saved over 240 tonnes of good food from going to waste – the equivalent of almost 575,000 meals!
The food saved was associated with at least 600 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, while the use of electric vehicles avoided 8 tonnes of transport emissions.
Hubbub has ambitious plans for 500 community fridges across the UK and thanks to Hubbub, Southwark Council and Greater London Authority, Food Connect Southwark launched its first London operations this week.
Milton Keynes you are pioneers!