‘I liked the idea of helping people in a way that challenged the conventional system’

We spoke to Ashley Wild, a Sociology and Politics student, who launched Goldsmiths Community Fridge Society - a project which saw those in need access donated food from a fridge in the SU...

 

 

What was your inspiration for starting this project in particular? Had you seen a community fridge done elsewhere, and if so, where?

I was staying in Helsinki for a few months, working in a hostel when I ran out of cash… and I visited a community fridge there and it was brilliant. I put off going for a while; I had this idea that going to a community fridge would be accepting charity. But it wasn’t like that at all. It was a bunch of people with a fridge - you know, just having a coffee, trading recipes, chatting about life. There was a really friendly atmosphere. And the people who were running it were taking things themselves. So I didn’t feel singled out in any way. It wasn’t a demeaning experience; it was an enriching one. I didn’t know that helping people could work like that.

In a lot of charities, there’s this ‘giving from above’ approach; it validates the moral worth of the person who’s providing the help and lowers the moral worth of the person receiving it. And if you’re the recipient of that, it’s just not going to feel nice. If you can cut that out, why wouldn’t you?

 

 

So what was the process of getting the fridge at Goldsmiths started?

It took maybe six months. First, we had to find a location. We thought the SU setting could help bridge the gap between the Goldsmiths academic community and the rest of the community. We wanted the fridge to be open to everybody, not an isolated group of students helping themselves.

Then we needed to get funds together, which we did through funding forums. We did a gig at Sister Midnight (a record shop and live music venue in Deptford) as well. We got three bands who agreed to play for free and managed to sell out. We raised about £240 just from that one night. It was a mix of willpower and trial and error.

Then finally, we had to find suppliers for the food. There were plenty of local businesses who were really open to the idea, which was nice - it kind of restored our faith in humanity!

 

What are the ‘rules’ of the fridge? Is it just for students?

We tried to stay away from rules. If there are rules, then we have to be the people who are enforcing them! Lots of places have hoops that you need to jump through before you’re able to get help. So the process of means-testing, for example, can be quite degrading - you need to prove that you are of a certain level of poverty before you can get help. And there are some people who really need help but they might not have a fixed address or they might have refugee status that might get in the way of them getting help from organisations. We decided we weren’t going to judge who was worthy of getting food or put any restrictions on how much someone could take.

 

What about allergies, intolerances, dietary restrictions and so on. How do you navigate this?

We would stack the food in different positions when we were loading it into the fridge, so meat was at the bottom, veggies at the top, so that way you’re not getting any cross-contamination. We tried to make sure everything was clearly labelled, but we did warn people that because everything’s secondhand from cafes, there might be some problems with allergies. We tested the temperature of the fridge before we opened and when we closed down as well, to check all the food was at a decent level. The general rule was, if we wouldn’t eat it ourselves, then we shouldn’t give it out to other people.

 

What did you enjoy about the project?

Usually when these projects get off the ground, they lean on one person more than other people. But with the fridge it’s totally non-hierarchical, everyone is totally equal, we were all co-founders. Everyone’s perspective was equally important. The fridge meant lots of different things to different people. For me, I just wanted to see if it was possible to help people and do it in a different way. I wanted to make something that would stick around in New Cross after I’d gone. I liked the idea of making something that was helping people in a way that challenged the conventional system.