Austerity may have a negative impact on our quality of life but it can also revive community spirit and co-operation. In an earlier article, HIP met the guerrilla gardeners maintaining and improving our green spaces, now Susan McFie talks to local people about managing street litter.

We all know that keeping the streets clean is the council’s job, but if there’s no money available then it simply doesn’t get done, unless of course people take charge of their own environment. Lately we’ve seen a proliferation of local groups and individuals working as litter activists and guerrilla gardeners; their efforts are part of a growing countrywide movement. 

The Great British Spring Clean organises mass-action clean-ups. The movement is about “demonstrating that you love where you live” You can pledge to pick up when walking the dog or taking the kids to school or join a clean-up group. Last year more than 560,000 people took part, they’re aiming for 600,000 Litter Heroes.

Rubbish buddies

Pauline Lee, a member of the Green Party and Transition Towns, has been looking into what local people in Hastings are doing about the problem:

“Hastings Borough Council no longer has sufficient funds to keep our streets in good order or keep on top of the mountain of litter we continue to generate – so it’s heartening to see that many in our community are taking things into their own hands.”

“Many people have been involved in the clearing of our beaches including the groups Transition Town and Strandliners. Others focus on woodlands or green spaces such as the West and East Hills and Old St Clements churchyard. All Saints Junior Academy joined with locals to clear the area around the reservoirs behind Harold Road and the Eco-Therapy group tackled Summerfield Woods in the spring collecting 40 bags of rubbish and some dumped furniture. They intend to make this an annual event.”

 “There’s a small army of individuals and groups maintaining not just the streets outside their own homes but also the surrounding areas. Folk are ‘doing it for themselves’ in central Hastings, the Old Town, the West Hill and Braybrook, in Ore village and St. Leonards and further out on the Rye and Winchelsea Roads. Others are clearing the passageways and green areas of the Hollington Estate, the streets of Baird and Halton ward and Salters Lane. A group of ‘rubbish buddies’ are cleaning from Hastings Academy down to Frederick Rd.”

Doing the council’s job

HIP also spoke to members of ‘Tidy Up St. Leonards’, a fast-growing group founded by John Funnell, like many others fed up with seeing litter everywhere. John decided to take action and began picking up rubbish. Gradually other people began to join in. However, it wasn’t all plain sailing. Richard Wesley, a group coordinator told us that they had become used to derisory remarks from some passers-by with comments including “Oy mate that’s the council’s job”. Group members are often mistaken for people doing enforced community service rather than volunteers giving their time to improve the local environment.

Wesley became involved with the group when he and his wife stopped to talk to John Funnell and thank him for his efforts. Before long he found himself helping with their admin and social media. They were soon part of the online world with their own website, Facebook Group and a presence on Twitter, Instagram and You Tube.

Tidy Up St Leonards recently merged with the group ‘Wishing Tree Woodland’ involved in the conservation of Pondswood. The woodland work has proved so popular that the group is currently planning to take on another woodland in the HBC area. In November 2019 ‘Tidy Up’ became a registered charity. Their work has been rewarded with support and funding from various sources including other charities and the supermarket Asda. This has enabled the purchase of safety gear, equipment and a trailer for storage and transportation. Skips have been provided free of charge on some occasions, in one case by Tesco.

Eco-therapy

So where are we going with all this? According to Pauline Lee, the litter problem in our town is a small part of a much bigger story. A trip to the dump gives a shocking snapshot of the profligacy of our throw away society. All over the country, every day, car after car, truck after truck is lining up to dispose of stuff. Our thoughtless actions have created a toxic legacy for generations to come. Action needs to happen on an international scale, involving major changes in the way we lead our lives.

Richard Wesley of Tidy Up St Leonards echoes these sentiments arguing that the only way forward in the long run is to change the mind set of the public. He believes that over the last 20 years or so, we have, as a society, lost respect. “Respect for where and how we live, for each other and even ourselves.”

Perhaps the most important thing we can do is to educate children in local and global citizenship and individual responsibility for health and environment. This subject will be featured in future articles.

For more information on Tidy up St Leonards go to their Facebook page
and Rubbish click here

Read more about Gardening Guerrillas in Hastings


Filthy Statistics 

• 226 million cigarette butts discarded in England every year 

• £1 billion – the estimated cost of picking up litter in Britain in 2015

• 11,212 bottles and cans collected in just one month during 2018 Green Clean Campaign

• 2.25 million pieces of litter dropped on the streets every day (source: Symphony Environmental).

• Government estimate of people engaged in UK litter action 378,300 for 2017/2018.

• According to local activists this figure has probably doubled since.

• 2018 ‘Tidy up St Leonards’ removed approximately 1314 bags of litter from our streets. 

• 2019 they removed 2207 bags.

• 2018 volunteers gave 1,112 hours of their time

• 2019 the number of volunteered hours rose to 1,560


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