Saturday, 21 July 2012


I’ve spent a lot of the last week supporting the new website for Norfolk Freegle. Norfolk was at the forefront of the Freecycle movement in 2004 and in 2009 we changed to Freegle when the people coordinating Freecycle in the UK found it too restrictive being part of a US based organization. I’ve been involved in voluntary groups for many years and have long known that it is harder to keep voluntary groups running smoothly than it is to keep a business going. Having to sell a service to clients, in order to pay the wages focuses people’s minds and provides a discipline that is often lacking in the voluntary sector.

Which is why I feel that developing what we believe to be the UK’s most sophisticated website for enabling things to be reused instead of being thrown into landfill (or incinerated) is a big achievement for a group of volunteers. It has only been possible because from the outset we have got together several times a year to share a meal and talk about things. We are providing a customer service to many thousands of users and face the same problems that a major business would – so passions have often run high and finding a compromise has not always been easy.

You might wonder why it is so difficult to put people who want to give something away in touch with people who have a need for it. The vast majority of Freegle users do behave responsibly and play by the rules but unfortunately there is a significant number who try to exploit the system by trying to extract money, spam other members and other fiddles. Some members fail to keep appointments and annoy people who have agreed to stay at home to hand over an item; it seems that because the items are free that some people think that there is no need to behave courteously. The new website protects people by not exposing their email address and identity to other users and gives a bad rating to those who upset other users..

So running a reuse service turns into an exercise in group working and community motivation and exposes many of the issues that Transition Groups will have to deal with in building societies where people work together in a spirit of cooperation. Dealing with the people who exploit Freegle can be frustrating but the rewards are much greater. A thank you from someone with no cash, who has just got the nearly new kitchen that I rescued from being skipped by a neighbour, goes a long way.

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