Inge – Ashburton Community Fridge
Collaboration and taking action.
“Currently, the main thing I’m doing is running the Ashburton Community Fridge, which has now been going for about a year. I was the one who got that going and we’ve got a good team of people now. I do the overall keeping an eye on things, as well as running meetings, writing funding proposals, talking to volunteers at other community fridges… anything that comes up really. The first project which I helped set up in relation to CAG Devon was the repair café. I’m also involved with the Art Centre, but we’re struggling with these because the number of volunteers has dropped since the onset of the pandemic. The same issue applies to the community garden. About 4,000 people live in Ashburton, and there are many great projects, but it’s always the same 20 or 30 people working them. The one project with a lot of volunteer interest is the community fridge. I think this might be because the roles that people sign up for are very clear and defined, and there is a very tangible result at the end of it. For example, in one shift you might save food from Tesco that would otherwise have gone to landfill. Then they can put this food in the fridge and see happy people taking it out. With the other projects, progress can be more gradual.
I’ve been volunteering on and off for most of my life. My parents were involved in local politics and volunteering, so sticking leaflets through doors and attending demonstrations was normal for me. Volunteering is an opportunity to have new experiences which are interesting and stimulating. But I suppose my main reason for volunteering is that I have had a fairly privileged life – financially comfortable, educated, and in good health. So, I feel like I owe it to the rest of the society who don’t have these advantages to do what I can to improve things. A more equal and engaged society is better for everyone; we’re all part of the same big web of life… those who have the means to do something, should do it. If you’re involved in some quite radical stuff where you’re with like-minded people, you can work together to feel more motivated and optimistic. Not all the people that I work with are radicals rhough, some just want to do their bit to reduce waste. But often there is a snowballing effect where a person becomes involved in one thing and learns about all the reasons why it makes sense to do other things as well. So, come back in five years and see where those people are then.
I have met some really inspirational people over the years. Being a trailblazer, doing something completely new and different, going out and convincing people that our work is important… I’m not really in that league. But through volunteering, I’ve met people like this, people who I can learn from. Some of my best friends I made through volunteering. Having a supportive husband has helped me to take action, as well as knowing other people who are also taking action. When I was setting up the fridge, I was supported by a small group of people. I’m very much a collaborative type and appreciate that my perspective of how to do things is quite limited. I had the kind of education that drums creativity out of you – you just have to pass exams. I didn’t attain that sort of free thinking that some other people have. So, I really like having a team of co-creators to progress with things.
The community fridge is very practical. 10 to 20 tonnes of food per year go through the fridge. Much of the supply that we get from supermarkets is not the healthiest, and the amount that we receive is reducing due to the pandemic. But sometimes we get an entire fridge full of organic vegetables from Riverford and other places. Fruit and vegetables are not particularly cheap, so for many people, we are introducing them to this fresh food. We’re actually hoping to start cooking sessions over the coming months… things to do with seasonal vegetables. People have commented on how nice it is going to the fridge because it is a community project; you can chat to people that you wouldn’t otherwise have come across and share ideas for things to make from the food. It makes them feel good to go, like people going to the village well in the days before mains water supplies… shared community access has struck a chord. There are no strings involved in taking the food, and anyone can take it. But all this comes with the usual sorts of elements with community resources – some people thinking that others are overexploiting it, and just don’t get that it is for anyone and everyone.
In relation to the community fridge project, without a doubt, my most satisfying moment was when I was invited to do some gleaning. This involves collecting surplus food from the fields once the farmer has completed their harvest. In this case, it was purple sprouting broccoli at Shillingford Organics in Exeter. There were 8 or 10 people there from different food projects, and we all just went down through this field and picked about 14 crates of beautiful purple sprouting broccoli fresh off the plant. I only took 4 crates back to Ashburton, but I wish I had taken more; I filled the fridge, went to my yoga class, and came back to an empty fridge. This was my most satisfying day because it took me somewhere new, and I had all this wonderful fresh veg at the end of it. I’ve been trying to find some other farmers to glean with, but most of them already do it through other groups and communities.
The things that I value most about CAG Devon are twofold. Firstly, the practical things like the insurance cover and templates of different documents like risk assessments make a huge difference. These are big hurdles which can seem insurmountable when you’re starting a new project. Second, networking and skillsharing events are really valuable. It’s a great way to meet other people doing similar projects, and also to have regular updates about new funding opportunities.
The main challenge is trying to remain patient with people who don’t keep to the point. When talking in meetings for example, people often go off on tangents and waste time. I’m getting pretty good at running meetings now though, good at keeping people on track in a tactful way. Dealing with an uncomprehending public is also a challenge. I feel my blood pressure rising when people voice concerns to me that aren’t relevant to the work that we’re doing, as well as the complete lack of urgency of some people and slow pace of change. But the thing is, barriers like these are just part of life. Everyone is different, and it’s helpful to confront this reality and regard it as a kind of spiritual practise – accepting that everyone sees the world through different eyes. My life would be a lot duller without this work and would not feel as fulfilling.”