AGM 2011 Reps Report

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Freegle So Far

Freegle was formed in September 2009, after a difficult birth. Two years on, it’s well worth reflecting on just how far we’ve come since then.
We have over 1.2 million members in 314 groups, with good coverage across the UK. Each month we have more than 100,000 messages, with tens of thousands of items given away for free. We have firmly established ourselves within the reuse sector, and are here to stay.
We have done this within a unique democratic movement. We have perhaps a thousand volunteers keeping local groups running, a healthy network for mutual support, and a structure which respects the autonomy of those groups and their volunteers. While we have had some fairly vigorous discussions, we have largely avoided the vicious arguments that plague online organisations, because we are a bunch of nice people united in doing something which helps individuals, the planet, and our local communities.
Each time we approve a message, each time we answer a member’s question, each time we help an item find a new owner, we make the world that little bit better. That’s something we should all be proud to be part of.

The Freegle Reps

The Freegle Reps were elected in January 2010, to help deal with the day-to-day running of Freegle. More recently our remit has been extended to include developing a strategy, but power in Freegle still fundamentally rests with the individual moderators and volunteers. The Reps do not ‘own’ Freegle, and do not want to.
Initially much of our time was spent working out how we should work together as a group and with the rest of Freegle: defining working practices, the relationship with Working Groups, complaint handling, and so on. That process wasn’t always smooth: we have had some personality difficulties, and problems with differing levels of time and commitment.
Over the last year we have been trying to focus less on internal organisational issues, and more on what will help Freegle thrive. The major piece of work here was our Strategy document, where we took a hard and realistic look at where Freegle is, what it needs to do, and what is possible. That strategy depended on existing volunteers being more active nationally, and finding new volunteers. Neither of those has happened significantly, so we are now trying to work out an alternative where we can get more out of the volunteers that we have.

The Year Ahead

These are tough times for lots of organisations, and Freegle is not immune. We face three main challenges:

  • We have a lot of volunteers running local groups, but lack professional expertise in some areas, notably media and technical work. This holds us back significantly – for example, we struggle to engage with local authorities and national government, who still have not really ‘got’ reuse in the same way as they have latched onto recycling. We need people with the skills to make an impact there, and the time to do so.
  • Like many revolutionary movements, the initial upsurge of enthusiasm is subsiding into a lower level. Most volunteers are happy to run their local groups – without which, Freegle would be nothing – but do not have the time to do more nationally to support other groups. But our processes and structures rely on a large number of active volunteers to make decisions. At times this means we get bogged down, and risk burnout among the core set of nationally active volunteers.
  • We rely on Yahoo Groups. This commands loyalty amongst existing members and moderators, but is increasingly dated, and will not be updated. As the novelty of reuse wears off, and people feel the pinch, they are less inclined to give things away. This is an increasing obstacle – as the web develops, people are less prepared to tolerate an old-fashioned site. We need to offer better solutions as well as Yahoo.

These are all issues which have solutions. We can, with care, apply for funding to fill specific skill gaps, as long as we do not become too dependent on it. We can streamline some processes while retaining our crucial democratic nature. And we can offer additional new ways to freegle for local groups which choose to adopt them.
The Reps are keen to make this happen. We need your help. We need you to trust us, but also tell us if you think we are veering off course. We need you to be receptive to new ideas – and to come up with them. We need you to find us more skills and more volunteers from your local groups. Freegle also needs at least three of you to stand for election to Reps to refresh the team and continue the work.
There are tens of millions of people in the UK who have never freegled. Let’s change that.

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