Dorking Community Fridges

19th March 2019

The average UK family wastes £470 a year by throwing away food which could have been eaten, and more alarmingly, £3 billion is wasted by food sectors during this time. Despite growing awareness of food waste, there are few easy ways for people or businesses to get food near its ‘sell by’ date to others. So far, across the UK, Community Fridges have helped thousands connect to their communities, access nutritious food, save money, and reduce waste.

The Dorking Community Fridge was first opened by Clare Davies and Tony White in September 2017. This week, we ask Clare just how this initiative is providing accessible food support to people across Dorking and Mole Valley.

Tony and I were inspired by a Jamie Oliver programme two years ago and knew we had to open a Community Fridge in Dorking. The idea is to place surplus food in a communal fridge for anyone to take, to save it from being wasted. We collect food every day from the supermarkets in Dorking, over 1.5 tonnes a week, and make it available to the local community. It has all been taken by midday! Our mission is to reduce as much surplus food waste as we can, but the social impact has been huge. Although we started small and didn’t know if anyone would come, we have grown beyond anything we imagined in just 15 months of being open. We now have two Fridges operating in Dorking which have saved 50 tonnes of surplus food in 15 months, and another Fridge ready to be opened in Leatherhead. Funding from the Community Foundation for Surrey put a Mobile Fridge on the road to service the rural communities in the Mole Valley area. This van will enable us to collect more food from the agencies who work with producers and local farmers, helping us collect surplus food from a wider area.

Over the past year we have witnessed a huge increase in the visits to our local Food Bank at the Dorking site, which we support by keeping fresh food aside to supplement the ambient goods. We have a mixed demographic of visitors from Syrian refugees, to mums with buggies and ballet school parents, and the local elderly population who come to the Christian Centre for their lovely and affordable food and coffee, as well as passing professionals and shoppers.

We receive thanks from many people. One young mother said that we had been a ‘lifeline’ during a difficult period for her and she was so grateful to us. We were pressured to open the Fridge on the Goodwyn’s Estate as people were being asked for lifts into town as, for many people on the estate, the bus fare into Dorking is prohibitive. There are hungry people in our society choosing to feed their children instead of themselves. This is especially a problem during the school holidays when there is no free school meal for the children. The Fridge on Goodwyn’s Estate is open for just 2 two-hour sessions per week and has had just under 900 visits in the past 3 months. There is a very real problem with hunger, shockingly, in our affluent town. The Food Bank had a record 50 visits last week and ran out of food. The Community Fridge supplements the Food Bank, providing fresh bread products, fruit, vegetables and chilled food.

We have been pressured by some supermarkets to take frozen and high protein food which can be frozen on the ‘use by’ date. We now have freezers ready for that to happen later this month.

The Community Foundation for Surrey has given some money towards administration costs, as well as an amount to fund a van to roll out a Mobile Fridge project to rural areas of Mole Valley, for which we are incredibly grateful. The van is especially useful as we can collect extra surplus food from Brighton. We then take that food straight to the villages, giving it out from the van with no need for a site to manage. It’s also very useful to collect food from supermarkets in fewer trips and we now have the capacity to take chilled food.

Thanks to all involved! We have charity status pending, we have a lovely new website just launched and we are excited to be taking the project further with the Foundations funding; we look forward to topping 100 tonnes of surplus food saved from being wasted this year!

The Community Foundation for Surrey is delighted to have supported this project in tackling the ever-growing issue of food waste. The grants we make to groups in Surrey such as Dorking Community Fridge are made entirely possible by the giving of individuals, businesses and trusts who we work closely with to help direct their giving to causes they are passionate about. To find out about other causes we have supported, please see our Case Studies page.