Board Annual Report 2021
FREEGLE LIMITED ANNUAL REPORT FROM OCTOBER 2020 – SEPTEMBER 2021
Last year was the year COVID-19 hit; this year is the year that we’ve got used to it. It’s clear that people have turned to Freegle (and other services like ours) in greater numbers - at times we have been twice as busy - either because they have more time, or greater need. It is lovely that we can help, and the Board is grateful for all the volunteers who have made that possible. We need to try to retain and build on this.
As in previous years, there are key areas (IT, media, work with councils) for which we cannot find enough volunteers and therefore pay for services. In historical terms, we have done well this year (see Finance Report below). But we only exist because we are lucky enough to find people with suitable skills prepared to work for below market rates, and we don’t have enough of them.
This is not a long-term sustainable situation. We need to find new ways to attract different volunteers, which may be uncomfortable. We also need to continue to try to secure our monetary income, even though we don’t like talking about money.
Overall, though, we continue to be amazing. Thank you.
Freegle is an Industrial and Provident society, and full details of our registration are at https://mutuals.fca.org.uk/Search/Society/9593. Our Rules are at Rules. Freegle is also registered as a charity with HMRC (ref. XT32865). Eight members have joined this year so there are now 148. All volunteers are eligible to become Members. The Board encourages people to do so in time for the AGM because this gives them the right to vote for resolutions and directors. This is the application form []. Members are eligible for a free copy of Microsoft Office Professional.
The Board has held regular meetings. All minutes can be accessed at https://wiki.ilovefreegle.org/Category:Freegle_Board_Minutes. Since November, the meetings were open to volunteers, with access details to the meeting being published on the Central group.
Elected Directors serving on the Board this past year:
- Jo Fisher - co-opted by Board in 2016, then elected in October 2017, re-elected November 2019
- Cat Fletcher - elected February 2014, re-elected August 2015, October 2017 and November 2020
- Dr David Greenfield - appointed November 2016, re-appointed 2017, 2018 and elected November 2019
- Edward Hibbert - elected February 2014 and re-elected August 2015, November 2016 and October 2018
- Craig Hilton - elected November 2020
- Michael Hoeben - elected November 2020
- Andy Ludlow - elected August 2015, re-elected October 2017 and November 2019
- Deborah Moss - elected October 2017, re-elected November 2020
- Ruth Willmore - elected November 2020
The requirement for one third of serving elected Directors to stand down for this AGM has been fulfilled by Edward Hibbert (who reached the end of his term), Jo Fisher and Michael Hoeben.
Freegle has the following Director roles:
- Chair - Edward Hibbert
- Company Secretary - Andy Ludlow
- Director of Finance - Craig Hilton
- Health and Safety Officer - currently vacant
- Media Director - Cat Fletcher. Cat is also contracted by Freegle 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. Emma is standing down but will stay on until the appointment of a replacement to ensure a smooth transition. Kathy is happy to continue.
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 message from us once again is that we need help, we as a team are struggling even to train new members. There are several of us on the team who have been here some time but cannot now contribute very much at all, little more than voting on work completed by others. Enthusiastic new team members who are keen to learn, ask questions and dive in might allow others to step back and feel less guilty. The country is fairly well covered now although there is still room for more groups, and some of our work is redefining core areas for existing 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 three to four hours spread over a couple of weeks depending on response times. The team works independently and cooperatively so we discuss and help each other out when possible.
Our processes have been simplified recently as we can now ask about new groups as an announcement on Central rather than the time consuming process of identifying, contacting and awaiting replies from potentially affected or neighbouring groups. We are also hoping that some of the actual creation of new groups on ModTools can be simplified soon which will reduce the need for tedious copying and pasting of guidelines and so on.
Please get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org if you can volunteer some help. There are now 308 Freegle groups, of which 17 are centrally run. In the twelve months to September 2021 we have handled: 21 cases, of which:
- 9 were new groups launched:
- 5 Launched, run by local volunteers
- 4 Created to be run centrally
- 0 Groups merged from other networks
- 0 Groups moved over from other networks
- 12 cases resulted in no further action.
There were 3 cases pending at the end of September, one has not completed an application form, one is a change of core area and the third is a new group working through the process with a caseworker
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 Ray, Mo, Ruth, Stuart, Alison, Roger, Jo, Saira, Christian, Tina and Wanda.
The Geeks keep our IT systems running. Currently we have Edward Hibbert (develops the software, and does most of the system admin work), Chris Cant (mobile app, other sysadmin, wiki and Discourse). In the last year we have also had help from Jason Harris on visual aspects and accessibility, and from Tim Aldous on User Experience improvements. We use Slack to keep in touch.
Most of the work this year has been on incremental usability improvements, job ads to generate income, and some behind the scenes upgrades. COVID-19 required quite a lot of changes, and also brought much increased activity - at times around twice our usual level:
That is a silver lining to the COVID-19 cloud, but has been challenging to support on the same hardware, and the site has been down for around two hours during the year. 99.98% availability is good considering our resources.
We should be under no illusions. The web is extremely competitive and the pace of improvement is driven by multinationals with staggering budgets. Sites evolve - or they die, like Yahoo. Change is therefore necessary, but Freegle’s culture requires the platform to have flexibility and be designed collaboratively. This takes a lot of time, and can be exhausting for us as well as for other volunteers.
Overall what we have is adequate, but not great. In the medium term we will not be able to keep up without more resources - Olio has 10 full time engineers, for example, and plans to expand to 35+ in the next year as it grows worldwide.
There are 399 volunteers registered on the Discourse national discussion groups, with a fairly steady 150 topics per month. The wiki is also kept updated and is still regularly used.
We are very grateful for all the volunteers who contribute to the Tech group - reporting problems, making suggestions, and testing changes. And thanks to Bytemark and Mythic Beasts for hosting.
David and Kim help keep our main discussion forums running.
For example: they check that members on our Forums are indeed Freegle Volunteers and offer help to any volunteers with Discourse.
Our main wiki has lots of useful info on how to use Discourse: https://wiki.ilovefreegle.org/Discourse
We changed our email to email@example.com to reflect our support role for volunteers using Discourse
Events attended – virtual and in person
Very few opportunities during lockdowns but a more normal schedule of opportunities is emerging again now.
About 20 outgoing events in past year:
- 6 live expert interviews on BBC Sussex Radio
- Virtual film launch https://www.plasticbritain.com/
- 2 episodes of Find It, Fix it, Flog it http://www.finditfixitflogit.com/ broadcast in August 2021 https://www.channel4.com/programmes/find-it-fix-it-flog-it/on-demand/59600-001 https://www.channel4.com/programmes/find-it-fix-it-flog-it/on-demand/69131-019
- Contributed to EU funded Horizon 2020 CIRCuIT project - circular economy https://cordis.europa.eu/project/id/821201.
- 4 x 1 hr online sessions for University of Brighton Summer School of Re-Construction https://blogs.brighton.ac.uk/schoolofreconstruction/programme/
- Presentation to Lewes Green Party (council leaders) zoom monthly meeting.
- Rubbermaid Recycling Champions https://loverecycling.com/love-recycling-heroes/. Judge and official announcement video
- Recycling and Waste Management Exhibition at NEC Birmingham
- 2 speaking slots about How Local Authorities can increase reuse and work with Freegle.
- 1st slot well attended but by wrong people. 2nd slot hopeless.
- The exhibition was 70% smaller than normal and not well-attended. Post-covid blues ☹
- Construction Week Exhibition at NEC Birmingham
- “There’s no such thing as waste” 1 hr talk/slot great attendance and response and Freegle plugged throughout.
- LARAC Local Authority Recycling Action Committee at Hilton Metropole Birmingham
- Network for all council recycling officers and service contractors/suppliers to LAs. **https://www.laracconference.co.uk/conferencedayone
- Chartered Institute of Waste Management "Resourcing the Future" conference in London
- coming up later this month (Oct 2021)
- PEA Awards - People and Environment **Achievement Awards London - I’m a judge for the awards https://www.peaawards.com/
- Panellist at Royal Institute Architects Declare Built Environment Summit for COP26
- Official launch of the UK’s biggest Reuse Depot in Manchester.
- This facility is based on Cat’s consultation work for Suez in 2019.
- No link for actual depot yet as not launched but part of this initiative https://recycleforgreatermanchester.com/renew/
The national mailbox firstname.lastname@example.org has been looked after this year by Jacky, now joined by Angelika. Between us we have handled nearly 1000 conversations during this last year, an increase of c.40% on the same period a year ago.
The range of work is interesting and the majority of contacts are from lovely people. We answer questions about Freegle procedures from volunteers and members, and queries from overseas and other organisations, we thank people for donations and help with the occasional complaint from local members.
It seems appropriate here to thank Wanda for her work here in previous years. She also worked tirelessly as a Mentor and Caretaker, manned the Support mailbox, was part of the Central group Moderators and of course ran her own local group in Luton. We miss her and wish her all the best.
Freegle Support is available to any one who cares to write in so we hear from all kinds of people from the expert to the bewildered. Not everyone explains their problem clearly or politely but we try to help regardless.
This last year, the team has consisted of Jacky and Dee and more recently Angelika who is proving a great help. We acknowledge, with many thanks, the assistance we get from Edward and Chris.
Christian also contributes, monitoring the people who report Freegle mail as junk. Too many of these makes Freegle appear spammy to the internet service providers like Yahoo.co.uk so he contacts any that do it regularly and asks them to stop.
The pandemic increased Freegle traffic and as could be expected the messages to Support increased as well to about 3500 from 2000 last year. Still we would like to hear from more of you. Some moderators use our services regularly, others never. We are happy to help.
ChitChat has been ticking over quite peacefully needing a minimum amount of moderation.
We have only had a few reports over the year. Most call for an explanation that the rules on ChitChat are more relaxed. We contact the reporting member each time as a courtesy.
A couple of members have used ChitChat when they've had problems with group posting, these have been connected with their local volunteers and/or Support.
Maybe there has been an increase in people who are in a more desperate situation, when that happens we try and point them to local support/charities.
We have seen a few introductions on ChitChat from new members commenting how pleased they are to have found Freegle and how they wish they had discovered it sooner. It reminds us that there are still so many people who don't know Freegle exists and that we need to tell as many people about it as possible, and also that we need to make sure new members feel welcome.
The mentor team has increased to 15 this year and although we have 86 groups currently on the caretaker list, we are coping with that well. We are continuing to find new homes for groups, but we gain them as fast as we rehome them and it is a slow process. We have rehomed 11 groups, but one moderator we trained gave the group back to us because she didn’t like us allowing some posts. We have trained 12 new moderators since last September and 21 groups have a mentor on board to help the owners with keeping messages cleared and to help with any problems they may run up against.
Spammer Checking Team
Sadly Freegle suffers attempted attacks by spammers along with other organisations and individuals. The internet is unfortunately a very convenient and easy way for them to do this.
Some central safeguards have very usefully been put in place by Edward to identify potentially harmful communications and posts but dubious posts and communications can still occur.
Courier spam used to be the most common problem. A desirable item would be offered then a member would reply only to be told that they had moved some distance away but the item could be couriered to them at a cost. The item probably never existed. Worry words will often be highlighted in chat checking and post checking so that members are not put at financial risk.
When a moderator identifies a potential problem member or message then they submit a spam report. This is then reviewed thoroughly by the Spammer Checking Team. If it is a valid submission then the email address is added to the list of Confirmed Spammers. Otherwise the reporting moderator is informed of the reason for the submission being rejected.
During such investigation it is sometimes possible to identify very similar emails - e.g. name1@, name2@, name3@ - which can enable us to identify problem email addresses and block them before they are used maliciously.
It seems to be a fairly regular practice by spammers to send sales or invoice spam to group volunteer addresses. It is unclear what they intend to achieve with this as moderators should be very wary of such doubtful messages.
The outcome of each investigation is recorded in our mailbox for an historical record. Additionally the reporting moderator is advised of the outcome for their information. There have been in excess of 485 spammers recorded since January.
Councils and Partnerships
Our work with councils has continued to gather momentum this year and we are regularly being contacted directly by officers asking to work with us. Many councils have also maintained a good existing relationship with us. We made a great effort to respond to the government's consultation for the Waste Prevention Programme for England, requesting better metrics, targets and focus on reuse. This year we have been joined by Anna, who is working with Natalie on councils and partnerships. Anna also has a background in waste management and since joining Freegle has written case studies, enhanced several sections of our toolkit pages and revamped our regular newsletter which has been rebranded as 'Freegle Bites'. This now goes out to our database of around 130 council officers once a month. We have had much more engagement with the newsletter and have recently noticed that this has been directly responsible for a number of local authorities approaching us for more information, data and sponsorship.
Sponsorship has continued to go well and we now receive sponsorship of various amounts from Buckinghamshire Council, Essex County Council, Lancaster City Council in partnership with Blackpool Council, Lancashire County Council, Bassetlaw District Council and we have recently been approached by the Somerset Waste Partnership about potentially sponsoring their groups. For financial reasons at the councils we sadly lost funding from Hampshire, Lewes-Eastbourne Council and Westminster City Council - although the officer at Westminster is still keen to work with us and may well renew the sponsorship at some point.
Anna and Natalie have been working on a new strategy for engaging with Councillors. As the senior members of councils, with the ability to direct funding, we feel that they are the best route into many local authorities. A cross referencing exercise of those that have declared Climate Emergencies has also narrowed down our list of those to approach first. They have also been looking at how to improve our offer to councils, retain sponsorship and how we run our on-boarding process.
We are now working in Lambeth with ReLondon (a partnership between the Mayor of London and London's local authorities) as part of their latest flats project which aims to increase recycling and reduce waste on several estates in the borough. This project is likely to give us the good credibility to work on similar projects with other councils and we already have interest from the London Borough of Sutton to do so. We have applied for a few more funding opportunities this year, notably the National Lottery Climate Action Fund. With lots of input from Chris Cant and Cumbria County Council we put in what we thought was a great application to provide collection and delivery service in Cumbria. There was an overwhelming amount of competition for the fund and we missed out; but we do now have an application that we plan to replicate for other funds in the future. More positively, we won £750 from the Arnold Clarke Fund and £400 from the Neighbourly RSA fund, the latter of which we are spending on overhauling our image library - something that we hope will prove to be a useful addition to our offering to councils and other partners.
In other partnerships news, we have continued to make small in-roads in the social housing sector including writing an industry magazine article, partnering with a tech company to integrate Freegle into housing management systems, have a few 'warm' leads with housing officers and are pulling together an information sheet for social housing providers to show them how Freegle can help. We are also partnering with the homelessness charity, Emmaus in Bedfordshire.
Saving the best news until last, we have been shortlisted for a LARAC (Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee) Award in partnership and for our work with Essex County Council. This is quite a prestigious award to win and so we have our fingers crossed!
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.
Discussions are sometimes contentious but always interesting. Freegle aims for transparency and opportunity to get participation from all volunteers, but sadly there is only a small number of volunteers that participate in this group. The flip side of being very open and still wanting autonomy, though, is that it can hamper decisions or motivation for change.
We have discussed/decided this past year:
- Board Observers: Scrapped the requirement for Board Observers on national groups and teams.
- Working Groups Procedure : Changed to reflect current practices.
- Caretaker Group Mod Recruitment: More emphasis added on encouraging participation rather than purely moderation.
- Abandoned Groups Procedure: Processes have been streamlined.
- Affiliation Procedure: Amended to make the consultation process less onerous
- Safeguarding Volunteers: We focussed on how to keep in touch with volunteers who might have drifted away, which has resulted in a forthcoming Modtools trial of highlighting ‘absent’ volunteers to a local team, so appropriate action can be taken if needed.
- Best Practice Review: Updated guidance added including not being acceptable for one community to ask a member to leave another community, and a detailed look at local rules which ModTools can use to flag up group specific ‘worry words/phrases’.
- Mod Notes Protocol: A new feature on Modtools is being implemented to encourage groups to review notes left about members.
- Wiki: To encourage more awareness of the wiki, a monthly report is posted on Central cataloguing recent changes, a page counter has been added to see which pages are accessed and more links to the wiki from Modtools have been added.
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:
Date 17th October 2021