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Tackling the litter blight

21 March 2015 marked Britain’s first national Community Clean Up day.

Hundreds across the country donned hi-vis vests, gloves and grabbed stacks of rubbish bags to give their local places and spaces a spring clean. For once though, this wasn’t just the role of local councils or do-gooders – consumer goods companies, whose products’ wrappings are often the source of so much litter, also got involved to back the campaign, and many turned it into a family day out.

Councils in England spend more than £800 million every year on street cleansing, and an estimated third of all street litter is attributed to cigarette butts, packets and matches. In times of squeezed budgets and mounting demand in areas like adult social care, community clean up feels ripe for some focused attention on how to engage people (and companies) to take a more active role in making their local area a more pleasant place to live and ensure strapped resources can be targeted in the most effective way.

Instigated by the government to encourage people to take responsibility for maintaining their areas, the campaign was designed to gather attention and activity during the first weekend of spring. Keep Britain Tidy, Stop the Drop, and the Campaign to Protect Rural England collaborated with McDonalds, Mars and Wrigley to support the campaign, offering tidy up packs to help people in their local clean-ups. The Great British High Street and the Association of Town and City Management also supported – showing the variety of interest in making sure places are clean and welcoming.

The great thing about a national campaign is being able to give focus to a key issue – yes it’s a local issue, but one that is frequently cited high on residents' list of concerns. From dog fouling to litter, people care that the places they and their family live are places to be proud of. Whilst MPs are lobbying for levies on tobacco companies to cover the costs of the clear up, the first step is to engage them fully with the problem – hopefully others will follow in McDonalds and Mars’ first step and recognise their own role in addressing the blight.

Many of the cities we’re working with for Cities of Service are targeting their programmes on 'Pride in Your Environment' and one of the most popular blueprints in the US programme is Love Your Block. Barnsley’s Love Where You Live programme has already mobilised 1500 people aged 8 to 80 to clean up local spaces. Not only has it improved the aesthetic, clearing over 30 tonnes of rubbish, it has opened up spaces that had become disused and brought together the community in doing so. Portsmouth recently opened up small pots of funding for local residents to apply to run their own 'Love Your Street' programmes with the support of The Southern Cooperative and the local newspaper. In Telford, over 30 projects have been initiated, led by residents who have committed over 1000 hours to improving their local area since last September.

Barnsley and Telford have used Community Clean Up day to give a boost to their work, and reinvigorate interest as we emerge from the drab winter months. In Barnsley, over 15 events were arranged by the Scouts, Salvation Army, Community Associations and the Council, showing how partners can come together across the borough.

Telford & Wrekin capitalised on the weekend to have a good old tidy up, clearing 20 bags of rubbish in the Town Park before a large family event is hosted there at the end of March. As well as contributing their time and energy, volunteers brought along cakes to treat themselves after their hard graft. The council put on a number family friendly activities, such as face-painting and t-shirt printing, and distributed free seeds for volunteers to start growing in their own homes and neighbourhoods. One of their younger volunteers was so taken with the activity, she's has even researched into buying her own litter picker!

What initiatives like Community Clean Up Day show is that taking care of local spaces can be an enjoyable and empowering experience, creating opportunities for people to come together (in the sunshine if you’re extra lucky!). It shows that there’s a role for corporates as well as councils and communities in making our local spaces better places. And the photos show that anyone can look good in a hi-vis vest!


Photo credit - Telford & Wrekin Council


Meera Chadha

Meera Chadha

Meera Chadha

Programme Manager

Meera was a Programme Manager in the Innovation Lab working in the Centre for Social Action to support social innovations to scale their reach and grow their impact. She led Cities of …

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