So here it is. My first ever post. I ask myself why am I doing this, and the answer that comes straight to mind is – why not. This is maybe another or better way of expressing my thoughts, feelings and observations regarding but probably not limited to ecology and environmental issues than any other option I have tried – apart from basic conversation! How very old fashioned conversation is!
So why a wannabe ecologist? Having worked in academia and NHS for 23 years, competed at age group triathlon for Ireland, had a working allotment with my wife for years, helped raise our 3 children, my next and hopefully forever interest is our impact on the immediate environment around us and it’s greater consequences. For many years I was as naive to not just human but my own personal impact on the environment as most people were and are. Having given up work in the NHS is May 2018 after various health scares I was spending more time at home. This allowed me to share responsibility for school runs and dog walks – amongst other things with Mrs T. It was on these walks that I began to realise the degree litter and the lack of civic responsibility regarding littering was having in my local area – Walton-On-Thames. I complained to my children, I complained to my wife and complained to friends until the penny finally dropped. Stop complaining and do something about it. One day in November 2018 I took the plunge and ordered my first litter picker. I was like a kid waiting for Santa to arrive the next morning. The parcel arrived and woohoo I had my first litter picker. Within 24 hours 2 more were on order as the twins wanted to ‘have a go’ too! At this point I felt rather silly. Walking the kids and the dog whilst picking up other people’s rubbish – essentially for fun. But it felt good! I had another purpose, I was out of the house, getting some exercise and helping to clean the town clean. My wife soon started joining in – which was great as this was another thing we could do together and then the teenager of the house joined in too. The 5 of us doing something together on a regular basis. Parents of teen and pre teen kids may realise what an achievement this is. The lure of Youtube, Xbox and Netflix is very very strong!
As Christmas 2018 approached and having been ‘picking’ most days of the week, I knew I was onto a winner. The clue – overhearing a young lad ask his mummy if he could have a litter picker for Christmas! But he wasn’t alone. We were getting approached by parents all the time asking where we got ours, how much it was etc. The kids were engaged and intrigued and the parents had no choice but to follow suit. It transpired Santa was very good in 2018 as he brought lots of pickers down the chimneys of houses in Walton. Soon there were a few independent ‘bands of pickers’ out about town doing their bit. In fact I came to realise that there had always been people doing their bit. Who knew!! But it wasn’t just the kids who actually wanted to get involved. Soon enough adults came up and introduced themselves. Asked what we were doing – community service perhaps? Congratulating us on giving up our time to do this task. The more they seen us the more intrigued they became until offers of help came forward. We realised we couldn’t let this opportunity pass so in March we set up the Walton Litter Pickers group on Facebook. It didn’t take too long to set up once our 13 year old showed us how! We advertised the group on the platform and were supported by the local trading alliance – WOTTA. 1,2,3 members began to come forward and volunteer. Initially friends, or other parents from school but then strangers – people we had never met were volunteering. As I write there are 140 members signed up to the group but this isn’t the full picture. Many have also roped in husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, children etc so actual numbers are probably more like 400-500! That’s pretty amazing given the nature of the group and the population of our small town – 24k.
Towards the end of March 2019 I was contacted by the MD of WOTTA. She had received an email from the council asking if WOTTA had any ideas how to quickly spend a windfall from the government to help community groups tackle litter and littering. We came up with a plan on how to spend the money – it was a use it or loose it scenario and there was a deadline of 6th April. It was decided we would ask for 140 Litter Pickers, hi vis vests, bags and gloves. In the end we got the pickers and vests. We (joint venture with WOTTA) gifted 10 Pickers and vests to each of 7 local primary schools. Joanna – the MD had contacted the schools to enquire if they wanted the kits – and of course they did. We spent an afternoon driving around Walton and Hersham delivering kits and taking the opportunity for a photo with students and staff where possible. All good fun. The remaining pickers were divided – 20 for WOTTA and 50 for the group – 30 to be given away and 20 retained for use on group picks. Yes group picks! We had grown to a point that people where asking when we could meet up to work together! Progress indeed.
Our first group pick was in April and we -18 good souls gave Cowey sale a thoroughly good clean. We actually removed 40kg of rubbish from the area. Of course it didn’t take long for it to revert back to its messy baseline – people just don’t care and leave their rubbish wherever they fancy despite bins being close at hand.
In May we had 24 people – half of which were under 18 turn up to help clean the streets from the river Thames into town. Again another large amount of ‘stuff’ was removed. The Walton Village – a local pub/restaurant offered free refreshments afterwards. Win/win! Tomorrow will be June’s pick – again meeting by the river at ‘The Barn’ and we’re hoping for another good turn out.
So, we have engaged with the local public of the town and indeed beyond. One tool we used was an initiative developed by Mrs T called #CommitToYourStreet. Snap a screen shop of the roads, street, lanes parks etc in your area, ask people to commit to helping keep the street they live on clean and tidy and hey presto a matrix of clean areas starts to appear! The idea has been embraced locally but more impressively outside of the town too – thanks to a lot of time spent on Twitter mostly. Towns in Kent, Nottingham, Cumbria, Cornwall, Wales, areas of London have adopted the idea and ran with it. The reach of Twitter is huge but even so we were surprised to see the idea taken up in towns in Germany, The USA and Australia!! Now we just need our own council to get behind it. Liking and sharing twitter posts isn’t enough. We need action to spread and retain engagement.
In June 2019 I was asked to become a Keep Britain Tidy LitterHero ambassador. I attended a meeting in Birmingham, meet some truly lovely and inspirational people including amongst many others Pat Smith AKA Action Nan and Jason Alexander from Rubbish Walks. It would seem now that I have the name of KBT behind me Elmbridge council finally want to engage. A meeting has been arranged for next week and I’m hoping we can get some answers to lots of questions around Litter, littering, recycling, waste, public engagement and civic responsibility.
Mrs T has worked hard putting an agenda together so hopefully we can have a productive hour with their team.
So that’s a little bit of background as to why and how. There is no need to go into all the detail as that would be really dull. I’m hoping to post fairly regularly weekly or every 2 weeks depending on what’s occurring. Topics for future posts will maybe include –
‘The power of empowerment’
‘The risks of the new fad – laughing gas’
‘Benefits and draw back of being a litter picker’
‘Single use plastic – what can be done’
‘Deposit Return Scheme – Have you got the bottle?’
‘The unacknowledged problem with smoking’