10 years of Freecycle: Matchmaking compulsive off-loaders with the vaguely needy


Rhodri Marsden
Wednesday 24 April 2013 18:36

I’ve no idea why it takes many sofa suppliers six weeks to deliver a sofa, but it does and as a result I’ve got nothing to sit on in my new gaff except an expanse of scruffy laminate. The idea of buying a sofa to sit on while I wait for a sofa to arrive seems needlessly extravagant, so I’ve turned to the global network dedicated to giving away stuff and getting stuff for free.

Next week marks Freecycle’s 10th anniversary, a glorious decade of matchmaking compulsive off-loaders with the vaguely needy; it even survived a fractious British schism in 2009, when disaffected Freecyclers broke away to form an almost-identical network, Freegle. Between them, Freegle and Freecycle now boast over 900 local groups in the UK with four million members. That’s a hell of a lot of unwanted stuff that magically transforms into wanted stuff.

On my local Freecycle group, 1 April saw the offer of a “home-made abacus”. Twenty two days later it was snapped up by someone who was presumably unable to get their hands on a free calculator. Meanwhile, a “bag of kitchen things”, with no detail about the contents of the “bag” or the nature of the “things”, was claimed within eight hours. Other nondescript bags on offer include one “of wool” and another “of music CDs”.

And then there are the “WANTED” posts, ranging from the preposterously hopeful (a flat-screen TV, a car) to the weirdly specific (a silver bistro table) and the slightly lazy (pebbles). The network was originally devised as a waste-reduction scheme, but taking a peek in Freecycle’s many groups gives some insights into local culture – or at least it does if you’re as interested in bizarre minutiae as I am. “We bought a lovely whole fresh coconut from ASDA last night, only to discover we cannot eat coconut on the Slimming World diet. It will be fresh for a week,” writes someone in Barnsley. There’s an “abandoned mule (chestnut/tan)” in Ballymena, a “box of rope” in Belfast that’s described as “just what you need!”, and a pint of Young’s in a pub in Barnes. We’ll be here for another 15 minutes if anyone wants it.”

It may not be helping the economy to grow one iota, but Freecyclers’ benevolence knows no bounds. (PS – If you’ve got a spare sofa and you live in East London, give me a shout. Ta.)

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