7 Lessons From Northern Ireland’s First Community Fridge

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Name: Patrick Frew

Chairman: Cloughmills Community Action Team

The sharing fridge in Clough Mills has had more than a tonne of food donated to it since it opened in August 2017. What lessons can we learn from the project so far?

Community fridges are not the same as food banks.

Based at The Old Mill, Northern Ireland’s first community fridge is run by Cloughmills Community Action Team and environmental charity Hubbub. Chairman Patrick Frew, who heads up a team of 30 volunteers at the fridge, tells us what he’s learned so far.

A community fridge isn’t a food bank for people in difficult circumstances, it’s for everyone. Anyone can put their spare food in the fridge and anyone can take food out for free. Businesses can donate leftover produce too - Sainsbury’s donate a lot of food to us.

Community fridges are not the same as food banks.

A community fridge isn’t a food bank for people in difficult circumstances, it’s for everyone. Anyone can put their spare food in the fridge and anyone can take food out for free. Businesses can donate leftover produce too - Sainsbury’s donate a lot of food to us.

People donate the most surprising things.

People in Northern Ireland tend to donate bananas, scallions and baby lettuces but we also get lots of baby food. It has a really short shelf life and people bring it in when their kids are moving onto solids. The last batch was enough to fill a shopping basket!

Don’t bin food any food, it can all be reused or recycled.

We’re teaching people to reuse and recycle all their leftover food. For example, don’t just cut the breasts off a chicken and throw the rest out, make a soup or stew that’ll last for days and recycle the bones your caddy. Our aim is to prevent any food from being sent to landfill.

We keep kitchen caddies in every room of the fridge.

Almost everything gets reused apart from things like mixed fruit peel which we put on the compost heap. However, we keep food caddies in every room of the fridge so that we can be certain not a single food item is thrown out and sent to landfill.

Food brings communities together.

Some of the people who visit the fridge would’ve previously stayed in the house a lot. The fridge keeps them active and connected. We’d like the fridge to become a community hub to increase conversation around food. We’ve even started a recipe library.

We’re great believers in sustainable living.

We sell eggs from our chickens and grow our own vegetables. Our latest project is a mushroom farm. We collect used coffee grounds from a local café, bag them up and add straw and mushroom spawn. We keep them in a warm, dark area then move to a shaded area and mushrooms pop up! The coffee grounds go into the compost or a caddy.

Growing your own food is like therapy.

We use our garden to help people with dementia and mental health issues. We invite them to open up about their conditions in our yurt and explain how clearing the mind can allow things to flourish. Our attitude is, why not plant that wee cabbage? It could lift your soul!

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More ideas on how to use your leftover food

All food waste can be thrown into your food caddy, but before it goes off to be recycled, you could have one more use for it.

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Find out more about this campaign:

Food Waste Recycling

If your rubbish bin is overflowing with leftovers, vegetable peelings, and tea bags, why not put it on a diet? It’s easy to do. Recycling your food waste instead of putting it in the bin only takes a little effort and is an easy way to help protect the environment and save your local council money they can spend on local services.