Leicestershire case study – community fridges


The Children and Family Wellbeing Service (CFWS) provides early intervention support for families who are struggling. The teams work with families with children and young people aged 0-19 and those with additional needs. Families may need support to manage behaviour, access work or education, recover from trauma or abuse, learn life-skills and overcome challenges such as poverty, isolation and mental ill health. CFWS supports families one-to-one, in groups, in clinics and through community interventions. The aim is to support families to build their capacity and networks so that they can sustain change, successfully parent their children and achieve positive outcomes.

Many of the families CFWS work with experience financial challenges. And the anxiety and conflict caused by food poverty contributes to and compounds their problems. Although families can access food banks, CFWS could support families better by integrating food services within its offering, and providing it in a familiar, comfortable space.

Following a visit to a community fridge in another county, locality managers in the children’s centre programme (which became CFWS in 2019) recognised how this model would align with Leicestershire’s approach with families.

How the community fridges work

CFWS launched its first community fridge in June 2018. Five years on, they have four community fridges based at the family hubs in Coalville, South Wigston, Hinckley and Loughborough (Shelthorpe).

They’re stocked with donations from local residents, projects and supermarkets. Regular donors include Greggs, Lidl, Aldi, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose, Milner’s Bakery and The Coop. Many of the items donated would otherwise be thrown away, so the community fridges also help reducing the food waste.

Community fridges are open for up to five sessions per week and anyone can access them This includes vulnerable adults and families being supported by the CFWS and social care.

Because the community fridges are available to the wider community, families who haven’t yet sought CFWS’s support know how to access it if needed.

Who was involved in developing the community fridges?

CFWS consulted food banks, churches and community groups to establish the community fridges. This enables the distribution and sharing of donated food and facilitates partnerships to address food poverty, so that more people can benefit from the service.

A mystery shopper audit took place in October 2022 to assess the accessibility, customer service, customer satisfaction, and visitor experience of community fridges.

This audit highlighted the community fridges’ flexible opening times, and how easy they were to find and access. Mystery shoppers praised the welcome they received at the community fridge and how the staff and volunteers were able to help with their queries.

Mystery shoppers indicated that they would recommend the community fridge to others: “I would recommend people to go especially with the financial crisis as it could save you at least £10/£20 on your weekly shop.’’

What was the impact?

There are now four community fridges running in Leicestershire’s family hubs.

In 2022/23, they donated and distributed 42,741kg of food and welcomed 11,452 visitors.

The work of the community fridges has supported the development of community connections to ensure more coordinated help and intervention.

Thanks to the community fridges, workers can support parents and young carers to plan healthy meals, cook on a budget and develop resilience. ’Cook and eat’ workshops run alongside the community fridges to help service users learn cookery skills, budgeting, affordable meal planning, healthy eating and how to use and store leftovers.

These skills enable families to feel more in control of mealtimes and their finances, which has a transformative impact on their emotional health and wellbeing.

Visitors have said of the community fridges:

“Impressed with the nature and the impact of the community fridge, I’d like to volunteer to offer my bit to this amazing cause.”

“Wonderful what you are doing for the community.”

When receiving some surplus flowers, a mum cried saying: “I have never been given flowers before”

“These are the flowers I had from the community fridge today. For me I’m being decadent, wouldn’t normally buy any, so it’s like a treat. Thank you.”

“I come to the fridge to stop food from being wasted … The three ladies on Wednesdays are amazing and so helpful.”

How were challenges overcome?

The community fridges are part of a national network coordinated by Hubbub, an environmental charity that provides support for setting up and running community fridges.

One early challenge was staff capacity to oversee and manage the community fridges. Across the county, 19 community fridge volunteers help by:

  • Organising food donations from local shops
  • Cleaning the community fridge and monitoring stock levels
  • Promoting the community fridge.

Another challenge has been sharing and distribution of donations to ensure all food is used, which was overcome through established food networks in the locality.

What’s next for the community fridges?

Following the mystery shop audit, the following recommendations are being implemented:

1. Improved signage
2. Promotion of community fridges as part of the family hub openings that took place from May 2023 onwards.
3. Updating family hub websites with video walk-throughs so families know where community fridges are and how to access them.

Subscribe to our newsletter 

Family Hubs in Mind is our free newsletter, circulated monthly, and will share news from our members, latest events and resources.

The National Centre for Family Hubs is hosted by the Anna Freud Centre. This data is managed by the Anna Freud Centre through Mailchimp. Click to read the National Centre for Family Hub’s Privacy policy

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.