It was in 2007 that MRW first wrote an article about the Ask Jennie website. The website has been going for 10 years, but is sadly now off line. All my attempts at trying to get funding to make the website free for councils have failed and, as a result of budget cutbacks, subscriptions to Ask Jennie have plummeted. Also if councils were not making service changes, they didn’t need to subscribe.
So what was unique about the Ask Jennie website and why was it so popular with those who used it?
The way I have worked is to carry out website searches for as much detail on schemes as possible. I then contacted councils for the information that is not usually available on council and other websites, such as details of collection and processing contracts. By speaking to councils, I was able to track trends. Having got answers to my own queries, it’s often been a case of “Jennie, whilst you are on the phone, do you know anything about this or that?” After a few councils asking me the same question, this was added to my list of questions for my next call. By the time other organisations realised that this was the latest hot topic, I’d already gathered the data.
The fateful/lucky day came in August 2003 when I was asked if I knew how many councils had introduced alternate weekly refuse collections (AWCs). Until that time I had only been gathering information on recycling schemes. I knew of about 12 councils on AWC but didn’t realise the significance of the question. I started gathering information, which I sent off to councils in spreadsheets. By February 2004 I was up to 80 councils on AWC. Eventually the spreadsheets turned into the Ask Jennie website, as councils were saying “Ask Jennie”, hence the name of the website.
Although much of the information I have gathered over the last 15 years is in the public domain or available under FOI, what I did was collate it and create a website which was searchable. I have the complete UK history of recycling since the nineties. It will be lost.
It wasn’t easy when I first started, but then my council contacts became my friends and they knew that if they helped me I would help them. When I first started ringing councils to see if they had a collection of dry recyclables (many authorities relied on bring sites or just collected paper at that time), I’d ask for their email address. One person laughed – “Email … I don’t even have a computer!” How times have changed.
In addition to the data I’ve collected, the power of the website was the search facility. This evolved as a result of what councils were interested in. It wasn’t just a case of which councils had AWCs, say, but also what was the standard size bin.
Budget cutbacks have meant that some councils are making no service changes or just tweaking schemes. That said, major service changes are still being introduced by some councils. In particular the introduction of two-stream wheeled bin dry recyclables collections, alternate weekly refuse, food waste and charged garden waste collections. Again, in the case of charged garden waste collections, it’s also important to know how many households have opted to use the service, and this is often down to its cost. Opt-in rates range from less than 5% to over 50%.
With a degree in mathematics, I’ve loved analysing data too. I find it fascinating, especially when I’ve mapped the results. Seeing a visual picture is often more meaningful than looking at a table.
I will miss the Ask Jennie website, as I too have used it for searches. At the moment I’m still updating profiles and keeping up-to-date with waste and recycling news. For the last 15 years this has been my life and I’ve loved it, and hope very much that I will still be able to keep in touch with all the friends I have made over the years.