Board Annual Report 2020

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This has been an unusual year.

For the first time in our history we closed our virtual doors, from late March to early May. Both closing and gradually reopening were anguished decisions, especially as circumstances varied across the UK, and the different countries of the UK had different regulations. We handled this very well under the circumstance.

It was something of a relief to find that freeglers and volunteers returned in droves once we reopened - perhaps a combination of people decluttering, reduced income meaning people sought other options, charity shops being closed, and wanting to help each other. As a result we helped around twice as many people in July 2020 as in July 2019. This has subsided slightly as restrictions eased, but we are still well above normal levels of activity. There is little point in speculating what will happen over the next few months, but it looks likely that there will be a lot of people who need Freegle’s help over the near few years.


So far, we have emerged from lockdown in much better shape than many other charities. It helps that we are used to working virtually from our own sofas rather than in offices, and that freegling can happen safely even when other options are closed. During lockdown our income from donations mostly stopped, as you would expect, but we covered that gap by securing some donations from some councils. We are very grateful for their support.

There remain key areas (IT, media, work with councils) for which we cannot find enough volunteers and therefore pay for services. We only exist because we can find people with suitable skills prepared to work for significantly below market rates for the charity sector. We want the world to be sustainable, and that means we need to be sustainable too. That is a challenge for the Board, and we need new energy and skills to tackle it. We will be taking steps to broaden the Board membership over the next year.

This year we also welcomed the Norfolk communities onto our platform. The Board would like to thank John Heaser for having the vision and skills to help Norfolk escape from Yahoo early, and for supporting and maintaining their platform for many years. We are glad to be together.


Our report for the financial years covered by the period between the 2019 AGM and 2020 AGM can be found at Finance Report 2020.


Request from the Board of Freegle:

The Board would like the AGM to approve the disapplication for a full audit for the Freegle Ltd accounts 2019/20 and and instead accept Independent Examination from a qualified accountant. This would be in line with procedure used previously. The reason we are asking for disapplication of audit is due to the level of expense for an external auditor and time required from the volunteer Treasurer required for a full audit.

Under the laws governing Industrial and Provident Societies you must have a full audit if you are a charitable society type IPS and have a turnover of over £250,000 or assets in excess of £2,800,000. As we don't get anywhere close to these figures the expense and time for a full audit seems excessive when our transparency is confirmed by a qualified accountant through Independent Examination. More information can be found in plain English from the Co-op here: An Audit Tale | Co-operatives UK ...and in the legal explanatory note here:


Legal Structure

Freegle is an Industrial and Provident society, and full details of our registration are at Our Rules are at Rules. Freegle is also registered as a charity with HMRC (ref. XT32865).

At this time we currently have 140 Members, of whom 2 have been added since the last AGM. We also have 1 person in the process of joining, 2 previous applicants who have yet to pay for their membership and 7 ex-Members who have not replied to communications sent in the past year whose email addresses are bouncing, or who have requested to leave.

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: [1]

Elected Directors serving on the Board this past year:

Christian Brenninkmeijer - elected August 2015, re-elected November 2016 and October 2018

Jo Fisher - co-opted by the Board in 2016, then elected in October 2017 and November 2019

Cat Fletcher - elected February 2014 and August 2015, re-elected October 2017

Edward Hibbert - elected February 2014 and August 2015, re-elected November 2016 and October 2018

Andy Ludlow - elected August 2015, re-elected October 2017 and November 2019

Deborah Moss - elected October 2017

Ray Owen - elected October 2018

Dr David Greenfield - appointed November 2016, re-appointed 2017, 2018 and elected November 2019

There has been one elected vacancy for the whole year

The requirement for one third of serving elected Directors to stand down for this AGM has been fulfilled by Cat Fletcher and Deborah Moss (who reached the end of their terms), and Ray Owen.

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.

Appointed Roles

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


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.

New Groups

The message from us this year is that we need help. Without it we cannot guarantee to continue for another year. There are several of us on the team who have been here some time but cannot now contribute very much at all. The burden of running the team is falling mainly on one volunteer.

The workload is now far less than in early years. The country is fairly well covered although there is still room for more groups. There is a small amount of ongoing work to monitor the mailbox and deal with queries. We have a database which is a record of all groups launched since 2009. .Some weeks there is little to do but if a case needs to be processed then it could take at least two or three hours over one to two weeks, though this can be split between two people. The team works independently and cooperatively so we discuss and help each other out when possible.

Please get in touch with if you can volunteer some help.

The number of groups launched this year is half that of last year but obviously times have been far from normal.

In the last twelve months to September 2020 we have handled:

18 cases, of which:

11 were new groups launched:

6 Launched, run by local volunteers

1 Created to be run centrally

2 Groups merged from other networks

2 Groups moved over from other networks

6 cases resulted in no further action.

There was only 1 case pending at the end of September.

As ever, we are very grateful to groups who respond quickly to our consultation emails and for the help given to us by the other Freegle teams

The volunteers registered to the team are Alison, Jo, Roger, Saira, Stuart, Wanda plus Tina (voting member). Christian is our Board Observer.


The geeks help keep our system running. Currently we have Edward Hibbert (who develops the software and does most of the system admin work), Chris Cant (who maintains the mobile app, does other sysadmin and looks after Discourse). This year they have been joined by Jason Harris, who has been helping with visual aspects, and also improving the site’s accessibility. We use Slack to keep in touch.

This year we have completely rewritten the front-facing parts of the website (both Freegle Direct for members and ModTools for volunteers) using newer technology. Some of the tools we get for free because we’re open source have been very helpful. In the run-up to this going live we had some volunteer help from Nick Sellen and Aaron Ferris. This change makes the site much more maintainable for the next few years, though we still need to do significant more work on the server side. We’re grateful to all volunteers for handling extra problems and questions that this caused.

We should be clear-sighted about the state of our site compared to the web in general, which continues to evolve rapidly. It has significant deficiencies visually, in ease of use, on mobile, in accessibility, and in the “wow” factor that helps get people talking and more people freegling. Overall, what we have is adequate. That is a massive achievement given our resources, but we need to be aware that other organisations operating in similar areas have much greater resources to deploy. This will continue to be a challenge, and that means our site will also need to continue to evolve as best we can.

The site has been very stable over the last year - it has been down for less than an hour in total. We have improved speed significantly compared with last year, especially given that we are more busy this year.

The Discourse discussion forum for volunteers has been running since the start of October 2019 on a Freegle server, with all our groups transferred over soon after as Yahoo groups web access shut down. Moderators seem to have got used to the new system, accessing it by email or on the web. Usage has been fairly steady over the year, with peaks when we were coming out of lockdown. There are currently 384 Discourse users. Typically 60k+ emails are sent out each month. Volunteers can use "anonymous mode" if they wish to raise an issue that way. Tech&ModTools is the busiest group, followed by Central with the other groups way behind. Discourse itself has been very stable and is updated with a small amount of down time as required approx once a month.



Cat represented Freegle during the past year by

Facebook and Twitter followers continue to grow albeit slowly. We have an average reach of 10k per day on FB and have reached 7k new people via twitter this past year. We support lots of aligned projects and campaigns and provide daily inspiration and info to help people be more resourceful around the UK. We are converting some of our social media content into Welsh to be more relevant in that country.

Cat has secured a double garage in Brighton to create a Freegle Hub and will post details on Central. It hasn’t launched yet and is of no financial liability to Freegle UK.

A full Media Report will be uploaded onto the Wiki for those who’d like more details.


The national mailbox is looked after by Jacky Barrett and Wanda Hall. Wendy Bennewith also works from this mailbox for her work in confirming annual Freegle affiliation. Between them they have handled just over 700 conversations during this last year, which is a slight increase on last year. The usual work is to field queries from overseas and other organisations, questions about Freegle procedures from volunteers and members, complaints from members, spam and scam reports and thanking people for donations. It continues to be an interesting variety of work which complements the techy queries that the support@ mailbox handles.


Most support is to Freegle users, mostly lovely, sometimes bewildered, sometimes angry. Some of the most common questions are about signing in, communications, dealing with other people, unsubscribing and the odd bug/glitch report.

We also have questions from moderators. Some of you are regular users of the service, others we never hear from, so don’t be shy, we would like to hear from you. What is a mystery to you may not be to us, and even if it is, we learn from the queries we receive. Don’t struggle, send us your problems, and that includes mapping.

We help by fielding the basic technical questions, with Edward always behind us when they get difficult.

At the beginning of the year Jean, Wanda and Dee were the main support, but now Wanda is on sick leave, Jean and her husband have had health problems, and Jacky has stepped forward and is particularly valuable when diplomacy is needed.

Christian keeps an eye on the 5000 or so people a year who mark our mail as junk. This causes the ISPs to see us as spammers, so he contacts anyone who does it regularly, in an attempt to keep the site’s reputation sparkling, as free stuff is always going to have scammy overtones.

Chris is always responsive on queries about the app; and Jean offers assistance with Facebook and Twitter questions Wendy and Kim watch the Chitchat to keep it relevant and the trolls under the bridge.

Altogether there have been about 2000 emails this year, some concerning the same query as we don’t always get it right at first.

It is astonishing how little information some people provide, yet how often we can guess the solution to a problem which they don’t know how to describe.


Mentors have been helping groups with holiday cover, training new moderators and generally caring for abandoned and ownerless groups. We currently have 81 groups on the caretaker list. We have managed to find new owners for 10 groups in the last 12 months, but one of them has since been returned to our care and we seem to gain groups as fast as we find new owners for some of them. We are also helping owners with cover while they are absent on three groups .

We reopened in May after closing for two months because of Covid 19, a few groups did not realise we had reopened. So we spent time getting through to the owners and now all groups are back up and running. Two groups were declared abandoned after the owners failed to return and didn’t respond to emails. We decided not to look for new owners for 3 months on groups that are newly abandoned, just in case the owner is unwell with covid. A group is abandoned for at least 6 weeks usually before we mail them, it takes about 6 weeks to go through the abandoned process, so with 3 months added as well, that gives owners a full 6 months to come back and take their groups back on before we look for new owners.

Since September last year we have successfully trained 7 new moderators. Five of them are now new group owners. One is helping on Leicester but doesn’t have the time to take the group on and one moderator has been trained for an existing group.

We are always looking for people to join the Mentors team. All you need is a bit of patience to guide new owners and moderators. If you think this could be something you would like to do, please drop us an email. Anyone who would like to see the caretaker list can mail us at and we will send you a copy.


The Central Mods team of David and Wanda help keep our main discussion forums running. At the end of 2019 we moved our volunteer forums from Yahoo to Discourse and this has automated many tasks we used to do manually. For example, we check that members on our Forums are indeed Freegle Volunteers. In Discourse this is automated as access will be gained automatically when volunteers use Mod Tools. We are also auto informed when volunteers leave which means we have a much more accurate info re total no’s of Freegle Volunteers which is now at 381 volunteers

Our main wiki has lots of useful info re how to use Discourse:

We would like to encourage volunteers to use our Café Forum This is for off-topic chit-chat about anything at all and it’s great to get to know other volunteers.

Post by email to

Here are some basic stats which are similar to when we were on Yahoo in terms of numbers:

We had approximately 440 topics on Central (3500 posts) and 934 topics on Tech/modtools (8000posts) and the rest on our other groups.

Overall from all groups we had 1400 topics and 0ver 10000 posts on Discourse in the last year.


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 groups 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.


Tech is the group for more technical queries, raising bugs, or discussion of how the site should behave. It is a crucial and valuable part of Freegle’s culture that we can discuss what we should. Sometimes we don’t all agree, and designing a website by committee is not an easy thing to do. But the end result is better for all of our involvement.


Our anticipated return to usual discussion levels hasn’t happened since we moved to Discourse just over a year ago. The group was struggling a bit to get input from more volunteers when we were on Yahoo, it seems to be harder still to do that on Discourse. It would be interesting to know if there are any views about why this has happened.

Briefly, we have discussed the following over the past year:

Change of Affiliation Requirements
This was a response to a 2019 AGM resolution. It is now mandatory for all Volunteers to receive national announcements, and by default are all now members of Discourse.

Discussion on Contract Payments
This was a continuation of a 2019 AGM discussion, but it proved to be a difficult conversation on an open forum and was referred back to the Board’s finance sub-committee.

Safety Issues
The group put together warning messages and a list of worry words for safety items which has been added to ModTools.

Closing and Reopening the Website for Coronavirus lockdown
We discussed wording of notices and issues about losing volunteers over the shutdown period.

Safeguarding Volunteers
We talked about ways to encourage volunteers to not lose contact or feel isolated.

Volunteer Feedback
This was a discussion about the best way for the Board to get volunteer feedback about the recent closing and reopening of the website. We decided on a questionnaire, which could be filled in anonymously. An invitation to complete the questionnaire was sent to all group volunteers 8-10 June, with review by the Board thereafter.

The discussion broadened into providing a suggestions box or similar for volunteers to submit anonymous suggestions at any time. The facility to raise a topic anonymously has now been enabled on Discourse and needs to be advertised to volunteers so they know this is available.

Removing Member Approval
Edward floated the idea of removing the ability to approve new members. There are 8 groups out of 450 that use this function and there is considerable coding involved in retaining it. After discussion (some of it not pleasant), it was decided that this would be removed.

Freegle wiki
The wiki has been edited through the year with various changes in response to dropping Yahoo, migrating Norfolk & Waveney communities over to the national website, and to reflect changes in FD and ModTools.



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:

Edward Hibbert


Date 25th October 2020