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Gotta pick a packet or two

November 15, 2020 10:42 AM

Spelthorne Liberal Democrats Spelthorne Litter Pickers (Spelthorne Liberal Democrats)The remarkable rise of Spelthorne Litter Pickers

"I had been listening to the comedian David Sedaris's programmes on Radio 4 Extra and discovered he spends his spare time litter picking near his home in Sussex", Shirley Lunn, the co-founder of Spelthorne Litter Pickers, recalls. "I was inspired to start doing a few litter picks on my own."

As there was a national campaign, Shirley assumed there was probably a local litter picking group and posted on Staines & Ashford Talk, asking about a local group.

Co-founder Kelly Emma McKenna takes up the story: "I saw Shirley's post and replied immediately to say I was interested in setting one up. We swiftly created a Facebook group and within two hours had 20 likes and growing. That's when we knew we might have started something local residents were enthused about."

An early active member was Jem Jones - now a trustee of the group along with founders Shirley and Kelly. "I suggested we started by meeting up and doing a litter pick in a lay-by on the A308 near the Fordbridge roundabout", says Jem, "We imagined a small number of pickers wanted to be involved but were astonished to find we had over 100 active volunteers within three weeks."

This was in July this year and since then "membership" has grown to 455 with over half being regularly active on the picks. "It's a real cross-section of the community across all areas of the borough," says Shirley, "aged from pre-school children to retirement age. But everyone shares a passion for the environment and wants to make a difference."


Earlier this year, the Spelthorne Liberal Democrats supported the Great British Spring Clean


Local pride

That pride in supporting the local community with what they are doing really comes across on their Facebook page, where members are encouraged to post pictures and tell stories of their picks. It is indeed uplifting to see people from very diverse backgrounds finding a common community cause.

Shirley really does believe people care about the local environment and want to do their bit, however large or small. "Litter picking gets people out walking in the fresh air, which is good for their health and there's definitely a feel good factor when you see the results of your work. It's something you can do safely while maintaining social distancing and it's a way of meeting new people. We have a very wide age range in the group, from young children who litter pick with their parents, to people of retirement age who may be living on their own. It's free, it's entirely up to members how much they do and they are able to decide when and where to pick up litter. We believe our group is making a difference to the community by connecting people - the mental health benefits are endless especially if you feel a bit helpless about what is happening to the world. It takes you one step closer to making a difference."

Children honoured as Litter Heroes

The Council has offer encouragement by officially honouring 32 children as 'Spelthorne Litter Heroes' for taking part in litter picks across the Borough. Kelly was delighted "We nominated the children and they have been sent a certificate signed by the Mayor of Spelthorne."

The practicalities

Some members have a stock of bags in various locations in the borough - members contact them when they need supplies. Depending on how much they collect, they can either leave it in an appropriate place and email Neighbourhood Services to get them collected, or dispose of them with their own refuse.

The group also has personalised high-visibility vests now, and some signs they can use when working near busy roads. They hope these will help to make them more visible to the wider community and encourage more people to take part.

Jackie Taylor, Head of Neighbourhood Services at Spelthorne Borough Council, has provided the group with adult and child sized litter pickers and has also managed to get some funding to enable them to continue to supply these to new members as the group grows.

Connecting with the community

The group have created good links with a number of other local organisations, including the Co-Op in Ashford, who have offered some funding, and the Little Green Boat Company, who provided boats and staffing free of charge for a recent river-based litter pick. This was part of their September project, in which they cleaned up the whole length of the Thames Path in Spelthorne, from the M25 to Sunbury lock. Future plans include joining forces with Thames 21 to clear the River Thames of plastic, supporting the new Talking Tree hub in Staines with litter picking activities, and a land and water-based litter pick on Staines Lammas Lakes, in conjunction with the Colne Valley Group.

Shirley again: "We have a simple online form, which can be completed on your phone, so our members can record the results of their litter picking and this is uploaded onto a spreadsheet. We also record the locations of rubbish collected, so we can report to the local council on trouble spots, including places where we find large numbers of NOS [Nitrous Oxide] cylinders. We've recently arranged with the council that we can collect these cylinders and the council will sell them for scrap - the money raised will be used to raise awareness of the dangers of using NOS in this way."

What next?

"We want to make Spelthorne the cleanest borough in the UK, somewhere our residents can be proud of and where commercial organisations are keen to invest because of the attractive environment," say Shirley, Kelly and Jem, the Group's Trustees, "We would like more people to reduce, reuse and recycle to reduce waste. Ideally, we would like to have at least 1% of the residents of Spelthorne join our group (about 990 people) so we have 'eyes everywhere' monitoring and reporting, as well as litter picking. This would help to improve enforcement of anti-litter and fly-tipping laws. We would like to see all local schools involved in litter picking."

Want to be a part of this?

Pop along to the group's Facebook page and sign up. That's it.


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