Created in June 2014, the Museum Freecycle project has gone from strength to strength in its first year, with 400 museums from across the UK now taking part in the scheme. Designed to help museums exchange unwanted items such as display cases, exhibition furniture and office equipment, Museum Freecycle has prevented good quality, reusable museum items from reaching landfill and forged mutually beneficial relationships across the whole museum sector.
The success of the initiative is thanks in part to the determination and vision of its founder – Caroline Keppel-Palmer. Endlessly energetic and one of the most optimistic people you will ever meet, Caroline started Museum Freecycle when she was Managing Director for the architecture and design studio, Urban Salon. The company worked with many museums by designing temporary exhibitions and noticed that much of the display kit from these exhibitions was ending up in the skip, even though most of it was perfectly reusable.
These observations led to the publication of a Design Week article by Alex Mowat from Urban Salon proposing the concept of a Freecycle group aimed at museums. This article caught the attention of Freecycle Founder, Deron Beal and with Deron’s support, Museum Freecycle was born, and the past twelve months have proved hugely successful with new museums signing up to the scheme on an almost daily basis.
The recent addition of a Museum Freecycle twitter account (@Museum Freecycle) has meant that the reduce, reuse, recycle message can now reach even more museums and each week, an assortment of exciting, quirky and useful museum items find new homes across the UK. AIM sat down with Caroline Keppel-Palmer to discover more about the scheme – and her hopes and plans for the next twelve months.
AIM: Hi Caroline – can you explain the benefits of Museum Freecycle for the museums that take part for us please?
CKP: There are three main benefits really for any museum taking part. The first is that Museum Freecycle is an easy way for museums to dispose of unwanted items sustainably. It also provides museums with a source of free exhibition furniture and museum equipment and finally, it’s free to join and free to use.The sector also benefits. By giving items bound for the skip a second lease of life, Museum Freecycle is reducing economic and environmental waste and creating value from those unwanted assets – all for zero cost.
AIM: How easy it is to join Museum Freecycle Caroline?
CKP: Museum Freecycle is super easy and speedy to join. All you need do is sign up to Freecycle as a museum and then apply to join the Museum Freecycle group. There is a handy how to guide with more details here: Freecycle How To Guide
AIM: Huge congratulations on the first year of the scheme – what have the past twelve months been like?
CKP: Museum Freecycle has grown throughout the year. The Horniman Museum has just become our 400th member and we now have members from across the UK stretching from Cornwall to Orkney! Members find it a convenient and useful way to reduce, reuse and recycle. We’ve found new homes for scores of display cases, mannequins, plinths; hundreds of storage boxes and other items. Museums have been able to use ‘new’ equipment from the site to develop their visitor offer for free. Bloxham Village Museum, for example, were able to replace their homemade donations jam jar to a purpose built donation box complete with thank you printed in twenty different languages by using the site.
AIM: Now that the first year has passed, what are your hopes for Museum Freecycle in the future?
CKP: I am keen to see as many UK museums as possible join and benefit from Museum Freecycle, so we can reduce waste to an absolute minimum and help as many museums as possible get access to ‘new’ free equipment. The more members we have, the better the site will work for everyone. I would love to see other countries follow suit with their own national Museum Freecycle too.
AIM: As well as encouraging reuse, we have noticed that there is a real sense of community and camaraderie between all the museums taking part – would you agree?
CKP: Yes, definitely. Museum Freecycle provides an interesting model for the museum sector linking museums and enabling swaps, gifting and sharing between those museums through a website. I am interested in exploring the potential for extending this ‘sharing economy’ model to other areas within the museum sector to see where else we can create value from underused assets. But I need to focus on my new business start up… so that’s for later!
AIM: You are a busy lady indeed. Thanks so much for your time Caroline – is there anything else that you would like to add?
CKP: Don’t forget that Museum Freecycle is free to join, free to use, helps to boost sustainability and make budgets stretch further. I also want to thank everyone for helping me with the scheme especially AIM, Share Museums East and the Collections Trust.
Find out more about Museum Freecycle Museum Freecycle
Follow Museum Freecycle on Twitter @MuseumFreecycle