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Cost of living crisis: six creative ways communities are responding

From car shares to clothes swaps, here are six responses to the cost of living crisis that can be replicated anywhere

From car shares to clothes swaps, here are six responses to the cost of living crisis that can be replicated anywhere

With energy companies and retailers raking in record profits, it shouldn’t fall on communities to cushion people from the spiralling cost of living. 

Nevertheless, across the UK there are heaps of examples of community-driven projects that are doing just that. And what’s more, many are easily replicable.

Here are six of them, covering transport, food and clothing, among other areas.

Cost of living
1. Share Our Cars, Oxford

The average cost of owning a car in the UK is estimated to be £3,600 per year, including depreciation. And while a lot of cars are cheaper than this, a 2020 study showed that people systematically underestimate the cost by around 50 per cent. 

“I certainly did,” said Emily Kerr (main picture), who lives in Oxford. It was only when the mother-of-three checked 12 months of bank statements for every car-related cost that she realised she’d spent £300 per month. 

Kerr sold her vehicle and launched the closed-loop car share scheme ShareOurCars. Now, four neighbours who live within 50m of her share their cars. Kerr now spends around £180 a month on borrowing their vehicles, public transport, an “occasional taxi” and cycle repairs. 

Kerr acknowledges that a car-free lifestyle isn’t for everyone, but said many families who currently own two may be able to go down to one if other cars were easily accessible. 

Want to set up something similar? It’s easy to do so via platforms like Hiyacar. 

Image: Sarah Brown

Cost of living
2. Community Fridge Network, nationwide

The Community Fridge Network was launched by environmental charity Hubbub in 2017 and there are now 270 such fridges across the UK.

They redistribute food that would otherwise be wasted and are open for anyone to use – without needing any proof or documentation. (They are, importantly, distinct from food banks). 

“As the cost of living continues to rise, more people are needing to make adjustments to the way they live,” said Liam Sweeney, creative partner at Hubbub. “Community fridges have a two-way benefit: to the visitor and the environment. We encourage anyone to use their local fridge to reduce food waste and, in turn, hope it can help them navigate through these difficult times.” 

Fridges act as social hubs too, Sweeney added, often giving rise to the likes of community gardens, co-operatives and cooking workshops. 

Each fridge redistributes on average 2.4 tonnes of food per month. Thanks to funding from Co-op, the network is set to grow to around 500-strong over the next 12 months. 

Image: Hubbub

Cost of living
3. The Friendship Orchard, Derbyshire

Research has shown that growing food on unused public land could boost food security amid supply chain chaos and a cost of living crisis. 

The good folk of Belper, Derbyshire, are one step ahead of the game – they’ve been doing just that as part of a project called the Friendship Orchard. 

Anyone can pick fruit for free from the trees in publicly accessible places, such as peoples’ front gardens, schools and verges. More than 100 trees have been planted so far, with more to come. Most have been plotted on the Falling Fruit website, which maps urban harvests. 

The initiative is run by volunteers and the trees are funded by landowners and donations. “We hope that the Friendship Orchard will provide not only free food, but will build a people network, and lead to chance meetings,” organisers told Positive News. 

Image: Marina Khrapova

4. The Big Help Project, Liverpool

Liverpool’s Big Help Project has been sending kits – containing seeds and lightbulbs – to hundreds of residents who are at risk of falling into poverty. The idea is to help them grow their own food and save money on energy. 

Each kit contains four low-output LED lightbulbs, two reusable shopping bags, seeds and access to free gardening classes. 

“These are small things, but added together it saves money on bills, single-use plastic bags and buying new bulbs,” said the charity. “Plus, the gardening classes will provide lifelong skills in window-box growing to help extend their options when it comes to food.” 

Image: Kenny Eliason

Cost of living
5. Waverley Garms, London

A clothes swap in a south London boozer is helping people refresh their wardrobes for nothing, while challenging the throwaway culture promoted by fast fashion. 

Waverley Garms – a play on the host pub’s name, Waverley Arms – was launched by Nunhead resident Cat Lewis. She had the idea after a friend organised a clothes swap for her birthday. 

The concept is simple: you bring your old clothes, leave them on a table and rifle through other people’s preloved garments in search of something you like. There are no tokens or quotas. If you like it, take it. 

“We get a real range of people coming along,” said Lewis. “We always get lots of mums coming in with their kids – it’s expensive to keep children in clothes. But these clothes are free.” 

Any leftover garments get taken away by I Collect Clothes, which sells them and donates a portion of the profits to charity. 

Image: Dan Gold

6. Wastesavers, Newport

A mother of two children under the age of four had finally managed to secure temporary accommodation near Newport in Wales. When they arrived, the only pieces of furniture were an adult bed and a small toddler bed that the children squeezed into together. 

“Happily,” said Nicola Rossiter, reuse operations manager at local charity Wastesavers, “we were able to donate a sofa, TV, table and chairs, some storage, a single bed and starter kit for the kitchen with kitchen crockery and utensils. We left the house feeling more like a home.” 

Wastesavers is just one of the 120 UK reuse charities that are supported by Reuse Network in their work to alleviate poverty, reduce waste and tackle climate change. Many members have diversified beyond furniture reuse since the cost of living crisis began to bite, said Ellis Roberts from the network. 

Last year, the reuse sector reused 1.5m household and electrical items that would otherwise have ended up as waste, helping more than 600,000 households access affordable goods. Collectively, this saved them £188.5m compared to the cost of buying new.

Image: Reuse Network
Main image: Leila Coker

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