Board Annual Report 2017
FREEGLE LIMITED ANNUAL REPORT FROM OCTOBER 2016 to SEPTEMBER 2017
The key challenges for Freegle, much as in previous years, are 1) to make people aware of us in the first place and 2) to provide a friendly and modern online service for new visitors and our existing members.
There are some difficult balances here. Some of the best publicity we get is local, but many of our existing volunteers have limited time or prefer to improve their community behind the scenes. National publicity can have a dramatic impact - but requires long patient campaigning and building of contacts and relationships. To help support local groups we have started this year to fund more national media work - this will take time to pay off, but is vital to make ourselves heard above all the voices shouting for people’s time and attention. We have started to engage better with councils, and it is becoming clear that we could achieve so much more if we were able to engage more deeply and consistently with them - this is a project for next year.
Technically, we have long-standing volunteers or members who are entirely happy with a traditional Yahoo/email model - but we need to appeal to the Facebook and instant messaging generations too, for whom that looks very dated. It is sometimes hard for us to recognise that something we are comfortable with may no longer appeal to the public, and for Freegle nationally struggles to support different views and options. We have continued to develop our online platform this year - without as many visible radical changes as last year, but with significant improvements and new features (such as the Newsfeed, which is a more modern replacement for our cafe groups). We now have 90 groups, plus Norfolk, which are hosted entirely ourselves, with a steady stream of groups leaving Yahoo as it declines.
It is always our policy that where possible we achieve Freegle’s aims through volunteers. However there are areas where we are short on volunteer skills and need to do more - one example for the coming year is a project to provide local volunteers with support to engage much more deeply and consistently with councils. We cannot continue to exceed our income indefinitely, and we will therefore be looking at ways to continue to grow our income. Freegle does not have a fundraising culture, and many existing volunteers have financial or health issues which mean it is neither fair nor reasonable to expect them to raise funds (though if you want to run a marathon for us, go ahead!). We will therefore be looking at increased donations from members, carefully chosen business sponsorship, and grant applications for appropriate projects.
But we need to invest in our volunteers - without them, there is no Freegle. We started a project this year to provide better volunteer support, which unfortunately had to be put on hold due to illness. We will revive this over the next year, and also make it easier to recruit more (and different) volunteers from our membership, who at the moment are an untapped pool of enthusiasm and skills.
In the world of doing social good online, organisations come and go, most lasting just a few years. So the fact that this year Freegle will turn eight is a great tribute to the dedication of our volunteers - some of whom have been around since the start, and some who have joined us along the way. Thank you! Austerity, social division, and increasing amounts of stuff made from unsustainable resources mean that our aim to promote reuse (not just recycling) is as vital as ever.
This year we had a total income of £16,771 - the majority from improved levels of donations from Freegle members via the website, and one specific very generous anonymous donor who has contributed £2,000. We spent £35,499, the largest part of which was £19,333 on the development and maintenance of our platform. This reduced our reserves from £48,760 to £30,032 - deliberately, because people do not donate to Freegle for the money to sit unused in a bank account, and it is the view of the Board that our reserves levels were and remain too high.
The full finance report can be found here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/10Z1U_nC907Z7A57fdLRi3cRspSRybF83FTek9Ce-piU/edit
Freegle is an Industrial and Provident society, and full details of our registration are at https://mutuals.fsa.gov.uk/SocietyDetails.aspx?Number=32410&Suffix=R. Our Rules are at Rules. Freegle is also registered as a charity with HMRC (ref. XT32865).
We currently have 128 Members, of whom 12 have been added since the last AGM. All volunteers are eligible to become Members, and the Board encourages people to do so. Members are eligible for a free copy of Microsoft Office Professional. More details can be found at here.
The Board has held regular meetings. All minutes can be accessed at 
Elected directors serving on the Board this year have been:
- Christian Brenninkmeijer
- Jo Fisher
- Cat Fletcher
- David Greenfield
- Edward Hibbert
- Sheila Little
- Andy Ludlow
- Andrew Trusty
Under rule 56, the Board co-opted Jo Fisher and David Greenfield, as independent directors, for a term of one year. In accordance with our rules at this AGM, Cat Fletcher and Andrew Ludlow have stood down, and stand for re-election.
Freegle has the following Director roles:
- Chair - Edward Hibbert
- Company Secretary - Andy Ludlow
- Director of Finance - currently vacant
- Health and Safety Officer - currently vacant
- Media Director - Cat Fletcher. Cat is also contracted by Freegle to for national publicity and social media work.
- Chief Technology Officer - Edward Hibbert. Edward is also contracted by Freegle for maintenance and development of our IT platform.
The Board is grateful to people in the following appointed roles:
- Book-keeper - Jane Loveday
- Returning Officers - Alison Redway, Jacky Barrett
- Ombudsman - Kathy Stanley-Quist, Emma Shane
- Volunteer Support - Mhairi Gordon-Preston. This is a paid contracting role for 1 year, currently on hold due to illness.
The invaluable work done by local volunteers is supported by a number of national teams. The Board is very grateful to people who volunteer with these teams, and encourages other local volunteers to do so if they are able.
The Freegle Group Affiliation Team (GAT) currently has 6 active members; Alison, Jo, Julie, Roger, Saira, Tina plus Wanda who provides input and technical support, Christian is our Board Observer.
This year this team has handled 29 cases, resulting in 12 completely new groups, 4 groups moving over to Freegle from elsewhere, and 2 replacement groups.
We have continued to struggle throughout the year for insufficient volunteer time to keep on top of our workload, particularly when it's been increased by actions such as Freecycle shutting down Yahoo groups. Following a major review of our procedures we have been able to make casework easier and clear our waiting list.
The geeks help keep our system running. Currently we have Edward Hibbert and Chris Cant. We would very much welcome volunteers with Linux sysadmin experience.
The firstname.lastname@example.org mailbox is looked after by Jacky Barrett and Wanda Hall. They have handled about 600 conversations in the last year - down on previous years as quite a lot is now handled by the Support Team. They field queries from overseas, questions about Freegle procedures from volunteers and members, queries from organisations, spam and scam reports, and thanking people for donations.
This is daily manned by 3 people - Dee, Jean and Wanda - with assistance from Jacky and Christian.
The work this year has also included a one-off (but large!) project of sorting out the mapping for Freegle Direct, which Roger, Dee and Wanda have dealt with. We've had roughly 2500 queries this year, which are not regular, sometimes there is only 1 or 2, at a peak period this year there was 50-60 in one day! As well as the main mailbox, our team also answers tech support questions on the national discussion groups and newsfeeds.
The type of queries dealt with are mainly technical things around using Freegle Direct and Yahoo, along with local area postcode area mapping within ModTools, and we receive these from members of groups and volunteers around the UK. It can take quite a lot of detective work to answer some, and we aim to answer as much we can to free up Edward and Chris from the demands of daily queries, and we are also proactive in debugging processes. We welcome contact from everyone, and where possible groups are copied with our responses.
Keeping up with the changes to Freegle Direct this year has been interesting and demanding. The rate of change with the platform and app has meant the support team has to be alert daily (hourly!) to changes. The Freegle wiki is out of date on Freegle Direct, which is something that needs addressing, but this team hasn't the time to do that, so any help that can be offered would be very welcome.
Mentors currently have 10 members and 1 Board observer. The Mentor team are: Alison, Christian, Cooky, David, Diz, Jacqui, Jo and Leon. Sheila Little is the team coordinator, and Wanda is acting co-coordinator. Andy Ludlow is our Board Observer.
Between October of 2016 and September 2017:
- 30 groups are currently being run for by caretakers and are looking for new owners
- 11 groups are being helped long term while the owner takes a break
- 15 groups have been found new owners between Oct 16 and Sep 17
- 7 established groups recently removed from the caretaker list are being mentored while the new owners settle in
- 6 brand new groups are being mentored for the first six months
- 22 groups have been moved to native hosting.
- 26 new moderators were shown how to moderate using our test groups and are now efficient in using ModTools
- 4 groups were covered while the owner went on holiday
The Central Mods team of David and Wanda help keep our main discussion forum running.
There are around 500 members on Central and we had roughly 3000 posts in the last year.. Down on previous years but probably due to some using the ModTools chat facility instead.
We monitor Central (and ModTools chat) to make sure there isn’t any trouble brewing. We’ve not had to ban anyone but had a few occasions where a quick reminder to be polite had to be sent to calm the situation. Our main role is to guide people in the right direction if none of the other members can help.
David has been liaising with the team who are working on the new database regarding which groups are or are not represented on Central. We also check that new members are indeed Freegle volunteers and make sure any New to Freegle volunteers are invited to the group if they don’t have a Yahoo profile.
Working groups are where we discuss how Freegle should run. We currently have a Funding Group, Development Group and Tech Group. All volunteers are welcome to join these group and their remits are available on the Freegle Wiki.
The Board would like to express its thanks to the people who participate in those groups, and also the coordinators who keep them running.
The Board would like to thank Andrew Trusty of Trashnothing for providing an alternative interface which is popular with members.
And most importantly, every local volunteer for giving their time, passion and care to their communities to enable freegling throughout the UK.
The Directors declare that they have approved the report above.
Signed on behalf of the Directors of Freegle Ltd:
15th September 2017