Belated happy 10th Birthday to the Penrith and Eden District Freegle reuse group! Formed on 20th January 2007, it has helped its members hand on thousands of free items to other people in Eden District. There have been over 66,000 messages over the years and has saved an estimated 500 tonnes of perfectly good stuff from going to waste.
Freegle is lovely in so many ways: helping your neighbours out, clearing your clutter and getting stuff for free while also reducing the amount going to waste and reducing the resources needed for new things.
The online group was set up by Chris Cant from Bampton with help from two other volunteers, Juliet in Shap and Judith-Ann in Garrigill. In 2013 they were joined by Elaine from Ivegill and together they have “moderated” the group activity. The group mostly runs automatically, but the moderators need to approve posts from new members and keep a watchful eye on proceedings.
“I get a warm fuzzy feeling knowing that there are loads of people here who have been helped out - while at the same time we're helping to reduce our impact on the environment,” said Chris. “Early on, in February 2007 a member was looking for all items to furnish a flat – and within a week they got dining chairs, a mirror, curtains, a cot bed, coffee table and a sofa.”
Over the years, many things great and small have found new homes, from clothes, books and DVDs through to washing machines, laptops, a kayak, cars and a caravan. Some have been a bit unexpected such as a garden well – just the top bit that stands on the ground. Lots of things will go even if they are not working, such as rusty bike that was taken to have its parts used to make an exercise machine. Upcycling has become very fashionable and many people are rediscovering DIY skills to repair or repurpose items that others have finished with.
The group started out as part of The Freecycle Network but switched to be under the Freegle banner in 2009 after consulting its members. Freecycle's US management was alienating its volunteer base in the UK, so we decided to go it alone. Freegle nationally has gone from strength to strength, improving its IT technology several times over the years, making good links to local councils and even getting a mention on East Enders! The Penrith and Eden group has gone from 2,000 members in 2009 to over 5,000 now. Nationally, Freegle is organised formally as a community benefit society and is registered as a charity at HMRC (ref. XT32865). Freegle Limited is owned by volunteers across the country and run by a board of directors and several working groups and teams - about us.
The basic of Freegling have stayed the same since day one: you OFFER something you want to give away; people get in touch and then you say it's TAKEN when it's gone. Alternatively you can post a WANTED message to ask for something – and mark it as RECEIVED when you get it. Everything is done direct between users so if you decide to give an item to Jill, she comes and picks it up from you (or you make some other arrangement) – it isn't given to Freegle to hand over (though there is a Freegle bookshelf in Penrith where small items can be left for anyone to take).
Although the basics are the same, the Freegle technology has moved on. We started out using the Yahoo! Discussion groups to post messages. You still can do this, but most people use our dedicated website www.ilovefreegle.org or the mobile app for Apple and Android phones and tablets. And you can also Freegle on Facebook if you wish.
There have been spammers trying to use the system to dupe people, so our advice is keep yourself safe when making appointments and don't agree to pay courier charges to receive an item. It is OK for people to get items on Freegle and sell them afterwards – this is reuse after all - but you must say when you ask for stuff, otherwise the offerer might feel disgruntled.
One issue for Freeglers across the country is how to transport large items. I've had to ask a friend for help when picking up a sofa – it just fitted safely on his roof rack. At one Give and Take event we had funding to do furniture pick ups in advance and drop offs afterwards. This did work but we were left with one or two large items which no one wanted. This left us in an awkward position so we're still trying to work out how best to help people move large items.
Early on, the Penrith and Eden District group users had a discussion about whether to allow animals to be offered or requested. Members were concerned that this might lead to animals not getting the care they need. Our advice is to contact Eden Animal Rescue and the like if you can no longer care for a pet – or are looking for one. See our welcome page for our advice about using this group.
Publicity for Freegle is vital to ensure that people find out about the free service. Nationally Freegle does regular posts to its Facebook page of fun reuse and upcycling ideas.
The local Penrith and Eden District Freegle group has had information stalls at shows and other events, and run many Give and Take events – these are like free jumble sales where people bring items to give away and can take anything you want. These are good excuses to get a press release in the paper. Chris confesses, “I put on a Freegle training session in Shap which no one came to – but it was none-the-less useful as several article about it appeared in nearby parish magazines and got people to join the group.”
These Give and Take events can be fun. Each time there's something unusual that turns up - we've got to guess what it is.
We've had Give and Takes at several places over the years: often in Penrith and Shap but also at Alston and Kirkby Stephen. The Old Courthouse volunteers at Shap have helped us run so many events that they can do it by themselves. These events usually work out well provided you've got a few volunteers and done some publicity in advance – and it's important to have somewhere to take any left over items: charity shops are usually happy to take things and sell what they can.
The Cumbria County Council waste prevention team have also been very helpful over the years, in particular Judith who currently works across Carlisle and Eden districts. Freegle helps reduce the amount being sent to waste (so reducing your council tax bills a little) and so the council helps us. The council team have helped other Freegle groups across Cumbria to run similar events. And in the last year we've had funding through the Cumbria Waste Prevention Fund in both Eden District and South Lakeland to run such events and get publicity materials. Cumbria County Council have also contributed to the development of a Freegle mobile app for phones and tablets, launched at a Give and Take event in Penrith in April 2015.
Penrith and Eden District Freegle ran a Grow-your-own fruit and veg project over three years funded by the Big Lottery, working in partnership with Cumbria Action for Sustainability (CAfS) and Penrith Action for Community Transition (PACT). The project easily achieved its aim of getting 500 people to give away or receive surplus fruit and veg – and handing on spare seeds, plants, trees and tools to others. With PACT we've helped local groups in Penrith and Appleby to set up community gardening projects and shared growing polytunnel schemes.
Over the years, we've had a slot on Border TV in 2007 with presenter Tim Backshall, various interviews on BBC Radio Cumbria and Eden FM and much coverage in the local press: the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald, News and Star, Cumbria Crack and others.
This year we are pleased to have supported two local Repair Cafe initiatives in Penrith and Kirkby Stephen. Both have been publicised on the Community Event listing feature, available free for any Freegler to use. This facility has recently been joined by our volunteer opportunities listing – great if you'd like get more help to run our local project. Speaking of which, Freegle groups across the country are almost always on the look out for new volunteers, not just to moderate message but also to do publicity, run events and link up with the council. And nationally Freegle also needs volunteers help – there's lots of behind the scenes roles that are vital. Failing that, please pitch in with a donation, especially if you've had a good Freegle experience – and it doesn't cost you anything to use Give as you Live.
It's easy to understand why Freegle has been successful: you can something for nothing and feel like you are helping the environment and your neighbours at the same time. The approach of having local groups and volunteers linked by an efficient national IT system has worked.
Thank you, all the group members, for making it happen - and all the volunteers who have helped over the years.
What about the next 10 years? It would be nice to think that manufacturers would make goods that last longer, we would buy less frivolous stuff and concentrate instead on spending time with family and friends while we live more lightly on the earth. We can have objects we're emotionally attached to and want to own, and the stuff you need on a temporary basis and just want to have access to, and work.
It would be good to see a resurgence of DIY and repair skills and businesses, while industry genuinely gets to grips with providing a circular economy where most materials keep being used and reused, without having to dig up new resources. And let's urge the government and councils to do more with reusable items that are binned.
How about a Freegle shop somewhere in Penrith? This could be a drop off point for Freegled items and a skill sharing place to learn to do repairs with apprentices, which school kids of all ages could visit to get them some vital life skills. Perhaps also run a tool library or “library of things”?
What do you want or expect to see happening in the next 10 years?