Essex County Council & Freegle
Supporting resilient communities through reuse
The partnership between Freegle and Love Essex is a best practice example of how the public sector can meet the not-for-profit, to achieve more with less.
Encouraging resilient communities
The Sustainability and Resilience Team at Essex County Council, otherwise known as ‘Love Essex’, are a team of ten, working across a range of sustainability projects. These include waste prevention & reuse; environmental awareness and an Interreg-funded project called BLUEPRINT to the Circular Economy.
Encouraging reuse has long been an integral part of the Love Essex offer. Alongside this, a number of community-led, local Freegle groups began to form in the county after Freegle’s launch in 2009. The Love Essex team were quick to see the financial and social benefits of engaging with Freegle further and in 2016 a mutually beneficial partnership between the two was formed.
Essex County Council acknowledged the value in supporting residents to build more self-reliant communities through the simple act of reuse, an activity which impacts positively on use of resources, saves money and helps to protect the environment, aligning neatly with many of the Love Essex priorities.
Love Essex – a move towards reuse
The ‘Love Essex’ brand and website were launched in September 2018, replacing ‘Recycle for Essex’. The county council and the districts worked together to develop a single brand with a consistent message to promote waste reduction, prevention, recycling and reuse.
The website is now the county’s main hub for all things related to household waste & recycling, recycling centres and waste prevention initiatives. Information arrives via the website, a dedicated Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram and a monthly e-newsletter for residents. Over 15, 000 residents are current subscribers to the newsletter and this multi-channel method of communicating with the public has proved to be very effective. Cathryn Wood, Senior Sustainability & Resilience Officer at Essex CC commented:-
Our monthly e-newsletter is one of a range of digital communications that we use. Use of social media platforms to reach out to residents has become more important, especially in the current climate, when face-to-face engagement is not possible and many are spending more time in the home. We monitor all our campaigns on a monthly basis using measures such as the ‘open’ and ‘click’ rates to help inform us as to what works most effectively. This digital trail, means that engagement can be measured and monitored much more effectively than with more traditional communication methods, such as radio ads and print.
Essex’s twelve districts, boroughs and cities use the Love Essex website to share news, ideas and content derived from this central source through their own channels.
When planning our media campaigns, an emphasis on reuse and the promotion of Freegle makes perfect sense. Reuse is something that virtually every resident can start doing today, without having to leave home. There are few barriers, the benefits are obvious and Freegle makes the process very easy
There are currently twenty local Freegle groups across Essex, with almost 70,000 members. In the last 12 months, 164 tonnes of ‘stuff’ was reused via the platform, saving an estimated 83.8 tonnes of CO2.
Cathryn Wood explained why Essex County Council wanted to support Freegle:-
Local Freegle groups have been active within the community for several years now and as a local authority we felt compelled to support and encourage them. There are some excellent examples of reuse already happening within the groups. The fact that residents can pass on a range of useful resources such as furniture, clothing or children’s toys, means that those in our community who are most in need, get to access such items for no cost. For us, supporting a charity such as Freegle is also a way of en-couraging resilient communities, especially in these difficult times. But the benefits don’t end there. For every tonne of material that is reused, the local authorities reduce collection, processing and disposal costs.
In 2020, Essex CC partnered with Freegle using funds from the county’s Waste Prevention budget. This funding helped with the platform’s hosting and site maintenance costs in addition to covering some of the loss of income that Freegle experienced in 2020, due to a reduction in user donations during the Covid-19 crisis. The county have recently committed to continuing this support in 2021.
The local communities with their band of volunteers are completely self sufficient so we don’t need to get involved with any of the day to day activity said Cathryn. However it made total sense for us to offer on-going support to Freegle more centrally. Even with a small investment, Freegle has the capacity to deliver significant, meaningful and measurable results which are of great value to Essex County Council and its residents.
Freegle Founder Edward Hibbert commented:-
Support from local authorities is crucial for Freegle. Our local communities are largely self-sustaining but with a small input of funding centrally, an incredible amount can be achieved. As a charity, Freegle is free to use but not free to run and we rely on donations to keep the platform operating. Local authorities have the ability to spread the reuse message far and wide and it is simply fantastic to see Essex County Council consistently demonstrating this in innovative and engaging ways.
Collection Vehicle Livery
In late 2019, an opportunity arose to advertise on collection vehicles in Braintree. As the newly founded Braintree local Freegle group didn’t have many users at this time, the team at Love Essex immediately thought that this could be of benefit to Freegle.
We wanted to promote the group in this area to encourage more people to use the platform and increase donations said Cathryn. The estimated reach of the collection vehicle livery is 65,000 households on a weekly basis.
Over time, Freegle membership across the county has steadily grown, as the graph below, showing statistics from a two-year period Jan ’19 to Dec ’20 demonstrates. Tonnage of materials reused has also increased significantly over this time with a clear resurgence of reuse activity after May 2020 when Freegle communities were unable to operate for a short time due to the Covid pandemic.
In print & media
In addition to the online activity, Freegle artwork and information has been included in magazines, newspaper adverts and on bookmarks sent to libraries. Radio campaigns are also used from time to time.
Videos – how to Freegle
Love Essex also has a YouTube channel hosting a series of excellent video shorts which have also proved to be a highly effective way of communicating with residents. An external film maker and actors were employed to create this professionally edited content. The collection covers a variety of topics and provide another engaging tool for Essex to draw on.
The process of ‘Freegling’ was covered in one of Love Essex’s videos: Give your unwanted items away on Freegle This video, alongside other messages promoting reuse, was viewed over 126,000 times across @loveessexuk Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages, with residents engaging with content by liking, commenting and sharing over 9,000 times in just 12 months.
Freegle reuse data for Essex