Board Annual Report 2022
This year has been a less strange year than last. It is a joy to see Freegle holding its own in a challenging world, and continuing to promote reuse and help people in need.
The Board’s focus this year has been on trying to make Freegle a sustainable organisation. We are volunteer-run, but there are some key skills which we cannot (despite our efforts) find from volunteers - not least because finding and making good use of specific skills is itself a rare skill.
This means that we need income to survive, and we have discussed at length our financial sustainability. Through a combination of luck and organised campaigns we have received some significant lump sums in recent years, so this year we have significant reserves and a financial surplus. But there is a stubborn underlying structural deficit of almost £30k (i.e. we spend more than we can expect to bring in).
It is very tempting to “sit” on this surplus and use it to fund the deficit over the next couple of years. But if we do that, then we will end up two years down the line with the same shortfall and no ability to do anything about it. And people do not donate to Freegle in order for the money to sit in a bank account losing its value through inflation.
Therefore this year the Board decided to invest in projects which could help secure and boost our future income – expanding our engagement and sponsorship work with local councils, modernising our mobile app, and investigating commercial sponsorship. Funding these activities dug deep into our reserves, but is necessary if we are to stay healthy in the future.
FINANCE and AUDIT REPORT
The review of the 2021/22 financial year and the Board's recommendation for 2022/22 Audit can be found at Finance and Audit Report 2022.
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).
We currently have 162 members, including 16 who joined 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.
The Board has held regular meetings. All minutes can be accessed at Meetings are open to volunteers, with access details to the meeting being published on the Central group.
Elected Directors serving on the Board this past year:
- Cat Fletcher
- Jo Fisher (retired)
- Dr David Greenfield
- Edward Hibbert
- Craig Hilton
- Michael Hoeben (retired)
- Andy Ludlow (retired)
- Deborah Moss
- Mike Paterson
- Jen Williams
- Ruth Willmore
Freegle has the following Director roles:
- Chair - Edward Hibbert
- Company Secretary - currently vacant
- Finance Director - Craig Hilton
- Head of Media - 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.
- Fundraising - Edward Hibbert
The Board is grateful to people in the following appointed roles:
- Treasurer - Jane Loveday
- Assistant Treasurer - Jacky Barrett
- Returning Officers - Alison Redway, Jacky Barrett
- Ombudsman - Jeni Mason, Kathy Stanley-Quist
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 New Groups Team currently has 11 active members; Jo, Roger, Melissa, May, Saira, Mo, Stuart, Ruth, Susanna, Ray and Derek but we will always welcome anyone that wants to join us, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
May and Melissa joined the group to help sort out the general mess that was our filing system and also better organise the email account.
From 1st September 2021 to 31st August 2022 we closed 11 cases.
- 2 - required no further action as applicant withdrew
- 6 - New groups were launched
- 3 - Groups had a core area review
- 1 - group had a name change
There are currently no open cases.
Board request for group boundaries out to sea to be reviewed has been completed.
Board request for overlapping simplified wkt to be reviewed has been completed all bar a small number of group core areas that have used council mapping which can’t be altered on the Google maps that we use.
With new members joining the team and fewer requests for new groups to be formed it has been a quieter year than normal.
The geeks keep our IT systems running. Currently we have two part-time paid contractors:
- 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 a little voluntary help from:
- Jason Harris, on visual aspects and accessibility.
- Tim Aldous, on user experience improvements.
- Clement Lee, on statistics.
This year we have started a slow refresh of our core technology:
- We’re exploring options for a new look and feel for our mobile application, using an external agency (Hatless). The aim is to produce something which feels more modern, easier to use on a phone, and more like an native app rather than a website.
- We’re updating the technology used by www.ilovefreegle.org. This will help us maintain the site going forward, and should also produce some welcome speed improvements.
Our dependence on too few people remains a problem. We are starting to look at alternative technology for hosting what we do, which would cost more money but less time. We’re also using a password manager for better security and easier sharing of details between geeks.
We continue to benefit from free hosting from Bytemark and reduced prices from Mythic Beasts. We can’t take this for granted, though - Bytemark have been bought by Iomart, and this support is not guaranteed to continue.
We have had similar levels of activity to last year, but more evenly distributed, as COVID settles down.
There are 400 volunteers registered on the Discourse national discussion groups, with 700-1500 posts per month. The wiki is also kept updated and is still regularly used.
We are very grateful for all the volunteers who contribute on the Tech group - reporting problems, making suggestions, and testing changes.
This has been delayed due to illness. We will post it on Central when it is ready.
The national mailbox email@example.com is looked after by Jacky and Angelika. Between us we have handled c 400 conversations during this last year, a decrease on the previous year.
The range of work is interesting and sometimes challenging. We answer questions about Freegle procedures from volunteers and members, queries from overseas and other organisations about a variety of recycling and Freegle opportunities, we thank people for donations and help with occasional (7 this year) complaints from local members or volunteers.
This year we have continued to receive lots of interest from councils across the UK. Much of this has been prompted by Cat's presentation at the LARAC conference (we are still getting enquiries from this almost a year after the event), as well as us continuing to send regular newsletters to council officers on our mailing list. We have also seen some organic increase in engagement as more councils are reviewing their priorities around waste prevention activities and reuse.
We have been working to overhaul the presentation that we give to councils we meet with, giving a focus to problems that they have with reuse, such as a lack of data, no capacity to work on it effectively and then how Freegle can solve those problems.
We have successfully managed to get Buckinghamshire Council and Essex County Council to renew their annual sponsorship and we are waiting to hear if Lancashire will continue. We have sponsorship from Lancaster City Council for another year and in terms of new sponsorship, we now have Cheltenham Borough Council, Newcastle-under-Lyme District Council and monumentally, our first waste partnership - Norfolk, which is really positive for us.
We have undertaken a little more work on the social housing project, but realise that we need someone with experience in that area if we were to fully replicate the work we have done so far with councils. We are currently getting some free advice from a contact we have with a background in this area and have recently released a Freegle Focus document on social housing.
A useful piece of work that we have accomplished this year has been having some professional photographs taken of freeglers in Brighton. Funded from a small grant and organised by Cat, we now have a vibrant collection of images that we and councils can use to promote Freegle.
Moving forwards, we will be looking more strategically at how we manage the councils and partnerships work and will be planning this from now onwards including, hopefully, a CRM system.
Freegle Support is a first port of call for members and moderators who need a little help with
- Freegle Direct or with Mod Tools,
- unhappy Freegle experiences,
- guidance on Freegle procedures,
- how to fix functions that don’t work
- or, how to donate money, unsubscribe or any other Freegle related query.
If we can’t help, we know someone who can.
Jacky, Angelika and Dee see a lot of questions and quite often know the answers. Backing us up, Edward knows nearly everything. Chris advises on problems concerning the app; Roger knows how the spam reporting system works; Christian monitors the amount of Freegle mail marked as spam and contacts anyone who does it excessively, asking them to stop it.
We see each other’s replies so we benefit from different approaches and one can pick up where another left off, if necessary.
We don’t have a tech way of monitoring traffic. Adding up day by day, the number of messages in August was 190, or over 2300 per year. This is considerably fewer than last year (3500) but is a bit more than the year before (2000). Perhaps Freegle is easier to use now, or the number of queries may vary with usage.
Still we would be happy to hear from more moderators. Some are in regular contact, others we never hear from. We are happy that they don’t need us but ready and willing to help if they ever do.
There is not much to report for ChitChat, we still try and keep a light touch with moderating. After a member raised a complaint, a vote on Discourse has led to the agreement that no live animals will be allowed to be offered for swap/sale on ChitChat. We are happy to enforce that rule. We still use our discretion to allow a small volume of local services to post, but in reality, this isn’t something that happens that often.
We get reports sent directly via geeks, most of which call for an explanation that the rules on ChitChat are more relaxed. We contact the reporting member each time as a courtesy. If there is an issue with a specific member, we try and contact the group they belong to, to keep them informed.
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.
There have been an increase in people who are in a more desperate situation asking for immediate resources such as food and/or shelter. When that happens, we try and point them to local support/charities. Some members are sceptical about these members stories, but we feel it’s better to give the benefit of the doubt.
There are still many new members who are very happy to have found Freegle and success stories from newer and long time members which are always nice to see.
I took responsibility for coordinating the work of the team in October 2021 following the resignation of Sheila Little. My aim was to reduce the number of caretaker groups as well as updating the team’s records, which had largely fallen into disuse. I am grateful firstly to Derek, and latterly to Jo for bringing our spreadsheet up to date.
The team was joined by 2 new mentors, Ruth and Melissa, in October but we lost a long standing member, Alison, when I took over plus another, Kim, in January 2022 so the team remains the same size.
The number of caretaker groups the team was responsible for was recorded as 71 in November 2021. In July 2022 it had reduced to 53. This was achieved by way of a mixture of recruitment of new mods and passing some groups on to existing owners of nearby ones. Some of these owners volunteered to take on additional groups following publication of the monthly report on Central, but there were a number who were contacted directly, particularly in the case of small groups with limited traffic.
Recruitment has had limited success and my theory that the larger the group the easier it would be to recruit new mods has proved largely incorrect. The team has retained responsibility for recruiting to caretaker groups but the training of any applicants devolved to the Training group in April 2022. Up to that point the Mentor team had trained approximately 20 new mods, 2 of which were for new groups. Mentoring any new recruits remains the team’s responsibility and we currently have 11 new mods to look after.
The team is also responsible for supporting 8 existing owners on a long term basis. Theoretically these are groups where the sole owner should be recruiting local help but may, for a number of reasons, have not done so. I intend to review these situations over the next 12 months as it represents a substantial amount of work for the team.
Short term cover for holidays, emergencies etc tends by its very nature to be on an hoc basis, sometimes with little notice. We have helped approximately 10 groups. I am trying to encourage a system whereby all sole owners have a backup member of the Mentor team available to them for just such cover, as well as being an insurance policy should the proverbial bus come along. Not all group owners want this however, and it is of course their right to decide whether or not they wish to have a mentor on board.
Mentor team coordinator
Since we began earlier this year the training team have been asked to train 12 people. 4 of these dropped out before training began. Derek has done the majority of training with Ruth learning on the job. We have asked on Central if anyone would like refresher training, or help with aspects of Modtools but have not had any responses. We have experimented with training via Zoom as well as telephone training.
The Central team of David and Kim help keep our main discussion forums running. We 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 re how to use Discourse- Discourse
Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need help with Discourse.
David and Kim
Spammer Checking Team
The spam team have been busy recently. We have had several spam attacks and the scammers still haven’t given up. Please be very wary of any musical instruments offered, that seems to be the latest scam. Don't worry about waiting to find out if they really are scammers, please just report them and we will check them out, we can see what they are up to on other groups and we can see what other ids that IP address is using on other groups, so the quicker you report them, the quicker we can scoop them all up and add them to spam.
For the last year, we have tried to make what happens to spam a bit clearer for those reporting. We now keep a record of who we add to spam and why, and a record of those we reject from spam and the reasons why. When spam is reported we will copy the reporting person in on the email we send for our records, so you should always know what happened to your report.
No complaints have been referred to Ombudsman for action this year. A review was undertaken to update the Complaints Procedure and the Ombudsman and Advisory Panel remits. These were adopted by the Board in July 2022. Five members have been appointed to the Advisory Panel.
Responses have been sent to all 92 reviews received in the past year. The majority of these, 80 with 5* and 5 with 4*, were complimentary.
Of the others, 3 were 3* and 4 were 1*. There was one adverse comment regarding the number of offers still listed but shown as Taken; this has since been modified. Three mentioned problems with “no shows”, one that they were never lucky in getting something they requested and two that we refused to list something which Freecycle allowed (unspecified).
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.
Briefly, this is our activity over the past year. We provide fuller regular reports to the Board, which are recorded in their Minutes each month.
- Task 96 - long review of Best Practice guidelines, completed in November 2021.
- Task 103 - we changed the remit and name of the Central Mods Team to the Discourse Support Team.
- Task 107 - we revised the Abandoned Group procedure to make the process quicker in recognising and supporting abandoned groups.
- Task 115 - Finance Policy amended so a savings account can be opened by the Board.
- Task 116 - we changed the Volunteer Agreement to Our Aims and now ask all volunteers to annually agree to this via Modtools.
- Task 117 - We changed NGT and Mentors remits so both the same in respect of number of groups one person can ‘own’.
- Task 118 - offshoot from Task 117 discussions concluded that the national workload needs sharing. A new Discourse group - Volunteering - was established for advertising national tasks.
- Task 119 and 124 - implemented a reviewed Complaints procedure, including changing the Panel and Ombudsman roles.
- Task 121 - review of Health & Safety policy, resulting in dropping the role of H&S Officer and adding advice on the wiki for Safe Home Working.
- Task 122 - an ongoing discussion on whether to change our existing Mandatory Rules. Unresolved as yet.
- Task 125 - we revised the Contacting Groups and Confirmation of Affiliation procedures to align with new automated processes available through Modtools.
- Freegle wiki - wiki changes and additions are reported to Central each month; the report links can be found at Wiki Reports
- Task Lisk - Our task list can be found at http://freegle.in/Developmenttasks which shows outstanding tasks as well as those completed. We are always open to any new suggestions from volunteers.
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:
Chairman Date 29th August 2022