Board Annual Report 2019
FREEGLE LIMITED ANNUAL REPORT FROM SEPTEMBER 2018 – SEPTEMBER 2019
Freegle is 10 years old. In web years, where time moves faster, 10 years merits a telegram from the Queen. It is an enormous achievement for a volunteer movement in a world where we compete with well-funded tech startups and videos of “50 Best Cat Snowboarding Fails”.
Our website hasn’t had any radical changes this year - we’ve been improving reliability, performance, and email deliverability. The number of items offered or asked for is down 8% on last year, so we need to do more to make it easy for people to Freegle. Over the next year we will be modernising the website’s underlying technology, making the look and feel rather nicer, and looking harder at what will get more people freegling more often.
Financially, we are stable, and our income from donations and (reluctantly) advertising is holding up well. We could do more with more, but we have kept our core service running, and used some of our income to engage more with councils and win their support. That’s a tough road, but it will pay off in the long term. This coming year we will continue that and have a similar effort for housing associations.
Over the 10 years we’ve been going, we have saved roughly 50,000,000 kilograms of “stuff” from landfills and incinerators. We are amazing.
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 141 Members, of whom 2 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 Brenninkmeije- elected 2015, re-elected 2016 and 2018
- Jo Fisher - co-opted by the Board 2016, elected 2017
- Cat Fletcher - elected 2014, re-elected 2015 and 2017
- Edward Hibbert - elected 2014, re-elected 2015, 2016 and 2018
- Sheila Little - elected 2016
- Andy Ludlow - elected 2015, re-elected 2017
- Dee Moss - elected 2017
- Ray Owen - elected 2019
Under our Rule 56, the Board co-opted David Greenfield, as an independent director, for another term of one year. The requirement for a 1/3 of serving elected Directors to stand down for this AGM has been fulfilled by Sheila Little (who has reached the end of her term), Jo Fisher and Andy Ludlow. All three are standing 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 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:<br 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.
We are delighted that Freegle is celebrating 10 years of promoting reuse. Our team was formed in the very early days. Initially we were called the Group Assessment Team and our main task was moving groups over from Freecycle whilst at the same time policy was being developed on the newly formed Start Working Group. They were busy, challenging times so it is very heartening for us to be here 10 years later. A look back at the October 2009 Report for that Group gives a flavour of the task. http://wiki.ilovefreegle.org/Start_Group_Report_2009-10
We currently have 6 members; Alison, Jo, Roger, Saira, Stuart, Wanda plus Tina (voting member). Christian is our Board Observer.
Our name was changed a few years ago to Group Affiliation Team (GAT) but this year we decided to change our name again to Freegle New Groups Team. We wanted to better reflect the nature of our work now which is not moving groups but setting up new ones.
This year this team has handled 23 cases. Of these 23 cases:
- 20 groups have been launched
- 2 resulted in no further action.
- 1 outstanding
Of the new groups launched:
- 9 centrally managed
- 3 created to replace disaffiliated groups
- 8 brand new groups
We have ongoing mapping work to:
- Document core areas
- Identify areas not covered by Freegle
Although our workload has decreased over the years we are still struggling with it as it is an ongoing commitment. There may not be a large amount to do at any one time but the continual nature year on year is tiring for volunteers. We split the work into Admin, Casework, Launch and Mapping but we are not all able to do all tasks. The team can only do essential mapping at the moment owing to lack of volunteer availability. We would really appreciate some more help with this and other tasks so that we can be confident that our team can continue to work efficiently for the next ten years and beyond.
We are very grateful to groups who respond quickly to our consultation emails as this speeds up the process and helps us.
Thank you to everyone who has helped the team with our important work. We are proud to have contributed to the success of Freegle.
The geeks help keep our system running. Currently we have Edward Hibbert (who develops the software and does most of the system admin work) and Chris Cant (who maintains the mobile app, does other sysadmin and is leading on our move from Yahoo Groups to Discourse). This year we have had some additional input from Nick Sellen, and Gareth Thompson.
The system has been very stable over the last year - it has been down for less than an hour. At times it has been rather sluggish, and we have done work over the year to improve speed. We will be doing more in this area.
We have also worked with Return Path to improve our email deliverability. We have made progress here, though we have a knotty ongoing problem with @yahoo.co.uk, where mails often to go spam.
Both Freegle Direct and (more so) ModTools are now a few years old, so we have started a technology revamp of Freegle Direct. We would very much welcome geek volunteers with progressional Web Design/UX experience.
The firstname.lastname@example.org mailbox is looked after by Jacky Barrett and Wanda Hall. They have handled about 630 conversations during this last year, which is a 20% reduction 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's an interesting variety of work and we feel complements the techy queries that the Support mailbox handle. We are pleased to have a new person with us this year, Wendy Bennewith, who has kindly agreed to take on the responsibility for the annual affiliation check for groups.
We were set up to answer queries that previously went directly to Geeks in order to free them up to do their important geek work.
This is daily manned by 3 people - Dee, Jean and Wanda - with assistance from Jacky, Roger and Christian. We are happy to welcome Wendy who has also joined us and together with Dee is lightly moderating the Chit Chat feed and sometimes letting group mods know if there are any issues.
We deal with anything from general ‘how to’ queries to complicated techy problems. We have received ~1550 individual query messages to the mailbox since 1st Sept 2018. Many of these require lots of to and fro emails before being resolved so we send ~2k responses over the year. We also monitor Tech chat on Mod Tools and the Yahoo group. Our main purpose is to help members, and Moderators alike, with any problem they have.
We welcome any messages from Mods passing queries to us if they are stuck answering a member problem, or one of their own, and would encourage any others to do the same as we tend to see most types of problems that can occur so can answer quickly. Where possible groups are copied with our responses.
Often the first alert to bugs are raised by members which we can pass on to the Geeks so this is invaluable to the debugging and fixing quickly process. We also help groups with local area mapping problems.
The large spurt of members asking to unsubscribe and remove their data last summer has now dwindled to the occasional request now that the furore over GDPR has died down.
Grumpy members also use us to sound off and in most of these cases our silver-tongued member Jacky can help diffuse and calm an irate member.
Members occasionally write in with their own evaluations of the site and how it works, often giving very good and structured reports which we evaluate and pass on to Geeks. In some cases changes have been made on the back of the observations. Feedback is always good.
We also took on a number of tasks this year for the geeks.
The first and most important for Freegle was with respect to members marking mail as spam, or just leaving them in their spam box. Freegle signed up to Return Path and that meant Support would receive ‘spam abuse’ advices from mail providers of members that marked our mail as spam or, left them in their spam box to be deleted from there. We received 5680 spam abuse reports since signing up earlier this year. Christian has set up a program that detects if we get 10 or more reports for a specific member, we then write and ask them to please not mark our mail as spam and to move it to their inbox and delete from there. In some cases these are dormant accounts so we turn off all mail for those. In the long term we hope this will help more Freegle mail arrive where it should do rather than go to spam or not be delivered at all.
The second task was testing the effectiveness of Freegle 's artificial intelligence in forecasting which transactions would not go well, by a team of us examining a sample of members and their responses to posts and deciding if we personally thought they were good or bad and would probably be ignored.
The third was an exercise to clear out any dormant or garbled accounts by manually checking, [mainly done by Jacky], each one to see if it was dormant, or in some cases just an email typo that had created an extra account. This goes towards Freegle ’s overall statistic figures which could be skewed if there are too many dormant or incorrect memberships.
Mentors currently have 9 members and 1 Board observer. The Mentor team are: Alison, Christian, Cooky, David, Jo, Vee and Wendy. Sheila Little is the team coordinator, and Wanda is acting co-coordinator. Andy Ludlow is our Board Observer.
Mentors have lost two very important team members this year. Both Diz and Jacqui decided to concentrate on their own groups because of work and other commitments. We were also joined by Wendy and Vee, so the amount of mentors on the team has remained constant although our workload has gradually increased.
We have had several new groups created that are centrally owned to fill gaps in the country and a lot more moderators are getting older and deciding it’s time to hand their groups over to mentors. However finding new moderators for these groups isn’t as simple and we now find ourselves with 78 groups on the caretaker list. A huge increase in workload from the 47 groups this time last year.
We have found new owners for a handful of groups. Some going to existing local teams and others we have recruited and found new moderators for.
We spent a few weeks earlier in the year going through all the Twitter accounts we have the details for and changing the email addresses over to ilovefreegle.org emails. There are a couple of groups Twitter is being difficult about changing, but for the most part we have changed all those we have access to.
We still have a few groups where we are helping the owner to keep up with moderating, but the owners are active as well and a couple of groups we back up existing mods after the owner left and the mods don’t want the responsibility of being the owner..
We have covered several groups this summer when owners went on holiday. We are pleased to see more people taking us up on our offer to cover.
The Central Mods team of David and Wanda help keep our main discussion forum running. We are happy to report a quiet year on Central.
There are around 500 members on Central and we had roughly 2020 posts in the last year to the Yahoo group. Down on previous years but probably due to some volunteers using the ModTools chat facility as well as or instead of the Yahoo Group and we are unable to count the messages on there but there are usually an average of at least 5 a day.
Approx a third of our members are on individual emails, a third on digest and a third on special notices.
We monitor Central and ModTools chat to see if anyone needs any help. Our main role is to guide people in the right direction if none of the other members can help. 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. We also send out a monthly list of scammer items that appear on groups to keep volunteers up to date so they know what to look out for.
Central will be moved to Discourse at some point, along with other national groups, and access will be gained automatically via Mod Tools. This process is still being worked on so the time scale is soon but not just yet.
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 detailed technical queries or bugs. It also provides a sounding board for possible changes to the website in the future. It is a crucial and valuable part Freegle’s culture that we can discuss what we should - and should not do. Sometimes we don’t all agree, but the end result is a better solution.
Jean kindly prepares regular Tech summaries for Central.
This has been a quiet year overall, as we have settled into our present legal structure and we are well established with little need of changes to procedures and remits.
We have done the following since the last AGM:
- Disengagement from Yahoo: we completed all the paperwork involved with this, including a complete review of the wiki to remove all superfluous information.
- Finance: we recommended an amendment to the Finance Procedures to allow for bank payment cards to be issued.
- Modtools: we recommended a protocol regarding downloading membership lists and ability to change group settings. We also devised a set of regular Admin messages that groups can approve for sending to their members.
- Team Remits: we tweaked the Geeks Remit, adjusted the remit and procedures for NGT (previously GAT), and suggested a list of who has access to Support Tools be put on Modtools/Teams.
- Channel Islands: it was agreed that this area was within the UK as part of our remit.
- Website: we recommended additional wording regarding duty of care for members to each other.
- Wiki: we reported that the wiki is not working properly, with new pages not being obvious in category pages, and overall making it hard to find information.
THE DIRECTORS WOULD ALSO LIKE TO RECORD THANKS TO:
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. DECLARATION
The Directors declare that they have approved the report above. Signed on behalf of the Directors of Freegle Ltd: