A cool solution to food waste

Diana Korchien from Transition Leytonstone introduces a new project aiming to cut waste and reduce poverty

Leytonstone Community Fridge

The design for Leytonstone Community Fridge, by Made With Volume

When I came to Leytonstone 30 years ago, homelessness and hunger were a largely invisible problem. But recently street sleepers huddling in doorways have become a common sight, and Leytonstone Food Bank has been operating in top gear.

Our choice is stark; we either ignore the problem, or try to find a solution. With £13billion of food thrown away each year by British households and a further £3billion wasted by restaurants and shops, my local sustainability group Transition Leytonstone decided to take action.

Last year we started running a popular monthly stall stocked with out-of-date food supplied by the Best Before Project, which aims to save perfectly safe and edible food which happens to be over its ‘best before’ date from being discarded.

On its own the monthly stall – run on a pay-as-you-feel basis – was hardly going to solve the problems of food poverty and waste. What about fresh produce, baked goods, surplus sandwiches from cafés, and restaurant dishes being taken off tomorrow’s menu? How could we get our hands on those? And how could we store them safely and offer them to those in need?

Our answer was Leytonstone Community Fridge, to be stocked with surplus food from local businesses and households and open to all. We had heard about the community fridge idea earlier this year when sustainability charity Hubbub announced the world’s first Community Fridge Network, an initiative to combat food waste. We were among the first to express an interest.

Hubbub had already successfully trialled a pilot in Swadlincote, Derbyshire, with Sainsbury’s as part of the company’s ‘Waste Less, Save More’ project. The pilot saw more than 9,000 items of food redistributed in just seven months – an average 500kg (half-a-tonne) of food saved every month!

Unfortunately, we were left frustrated when the network launched in July with the participation of two other London locations, Manor House and Old Street, as well as others in Milton Keynes and Northern Ireland. These fridges all had one thing in common; they were safely situated inside community centres. Leytonstone’s was totally different; a fully public-facing facility, sited outside the Café de Montmartre in Church Lane, near Leytonstone Underground Station.

We reasoned that the fridge would be very hard to ignore on such a well-trodden pedestrian route. But it also needed to be protected from the weather and from criminal damage. How were we going to find a designer prepared to work with us? This was when we really got lucky. Posting our predicament on a local residents’ forum, we had a speedy response from local spatial designers Made With Volume (coincidentally featured in last month’s Echo).

Sharing our values of sustainability and offering their services for free, Made With Volume created a visually stunning solution. Transition Leytonstone would build it, Café de Montmartre would host it. After obtaining planning permission in November, we are now working hard to be ready to open for the new year!

We’d like to thank North London Waste Authority for their support, and Bosch for supplying our fridge and freezer.

Transition Leytonstone is seeking volunteers to help with the final phase of the Leytonstone Community Fridge project.

Email info@transitionleytonstone.org.uk