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We’ve recently welcomed Uckfield Community Fridge to our network of community food members. We spoke with one of the directors, Amy Fieldhouse, who is also a children’s nurse and full-time mother. The Fridge officially opened on October 9th, 2021 although the idea was cooking for over 2 years before this. The project has already gained a lot of traction – the Town Council, local businesses and charities as well as the people of Uckfield have supported it and continue to guarantee its success. 

FareShare Sussex (FSS): How many people do you serve? And who are your beneficiaries?

A: “We are open three days a week – on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday for only two hours, and between 60 and 70 households, come through our doors. Thanks to FSS we have now expanded to a Wednesday afternoon from 4-5.30 also. The small building is in full swing the whole time!

The Fridge is for everyone in the community. We don’t ask questions about our visitors’ circumstances. Some use the fridge because they are passionate about the environment and reducing food waste, others because it helps reduce their weekly food bills or is a top-up from donations they have received by the food bank. Some come to have a chat and feel part of the Community. 

We don’t ask questions and we aim to not label anyone. We want the community fridge to be an attractive offer for all and we need the whole communities buy in, both donating and taking, so there is no stigma attached to using it.

There’s this gentleman, Micheal, who the volunteers all know and love! He only comes to get a few things, namely white bread! Micheal goes home to bake a bread and butter pudding and comes back to share it with our incredible group of volunteers. He makes our day and we are pretty sure being so kind and caring makes him too! 

Essential resource for me, my finances are really bad and I can’t afford fresh veg/bread. Lovely people and always very helpful.

Comments Book – 31/12/21

FSS: Tell us more about the difference between the Uckfield Community Fridge and a foodbank.

A: A foodbank is an emergency service that provides food during a crisis, with the purpose of directly tackling food poverty. If you are in food poverty it’s absolutely these guys you need to contact, as you will receive a food parcel with a balanced supply of food to sustain you and your family.

Instead, the Fridge has more of a sustainability focus on redistributing surplus food, stopping it from going to waste. Whilst we do have some incredibly generous local businesses who deliver fresh straight from market produce like fruit and veg from H&H produce ltd, or donations from Isfield Farm and South Brockwell Farm, we never know what we will have in! That’s the fun of it! Coconuts and coriander are great but they aren’t going to sustain a family for a week and that’s why we work closely with the foodbank and both charities have a place in the town.

Our community fridge is way more than just a fridge, however! It’s about forging community links that allow us to work better together, keeping people above water, and preventing them from hitting rock bottom and deprivation. The community fridge is also about helping the planet and reducing waste, enabling us all to make greener choices. It gives an opportunity for the community to care for and share with each another. It also tackles the stigma associated with food poverty and getting food for free. Finally, the fridge can reduce isolation and loneliness.

FSS: What difference does FSS make to your project?

A: the 3VA loved the project and wanted us to extend the opening hours in the afternoon to make it more accessible and reach more users. But we were concerned we would not have enough food. So they generously granted some money for us to find more food. 

FSS provides us with enough food to meet the extra demand. We can now open from 4-5.30 on Wednesdays. FSS also keeps us in line with our mission to minimise food waste as FSS food is surplus food too; some of the food has been rejected prior to hitting the supermarkets so this results in more variety than we get locally.

Having a delivery of FSS food means there is less stress and pressure on the volunteers who collect food at pre-arranged times and go far and beyond to match these with our fridge opening hours. It’s a joy to see the FareShare van pull up and deliver and it’s fun to unpack it and consider what we might have this opening. The nature of surplus food is we never know what we will have day-to-day!

A fantastic addition to our community, thank you to everyone involved! 🙂

Comments Book – 19/3/22

FSS: So queuing up outside a community fridge should not be seen as a symbol of struggle? 

A:  Absolutely right, it’s not about hardship at all. The community fridge is for every single one of us. Be loud and proud about your involvement and please do encourage your friends and family to use it too.

Waiting to go into the fridge is for some, the only opportunity to interact with other members of the community in the day. We have fairly long queues outside, this is partly because the space is small and we can allow only a few people at a time. Our volunteers really value taking their time to welcome, chat and connect with the people who come to shop, so there is no rush! Most people enjoy chatting in the queue and the atmosphere is positive and upbeat.

Nonetheless, we are going to expand our outside space over the next few months. There will be a shed (shared with Brighter Uckfield) and planters (made by Uckfield Men’s shed) to grow our own herbs, as well as café-style seating to allow the community to sit and talk whilst they wait their turn. We will run on a token system so none misses their turn and we are really looking forward to introducing this and collaborating with other local community groups so watch this space!