Taking action on litter

Words by:
Kate Chapman
Featured in:
August 2021

What started out as a litter pick around town by four friends who wanted to spruce up their Spalding neighbourhood has grown into a thriving community group with more people signing up every day to keep their area tidy, as Kate Chapman reports.

Since joining forces at the beginning of the year, the group known as The Wombles of Spalding Common – in homage to the litter picking Wombles of Wimbledon Common immortalised in the 1970s TV show – has swelled to almost 3,000 members, who have to date removed more than 12,000 bags of rubbish from the streets.

Founders Bren Bowman, his brother Kieran, along with friends Sam Roberts and Simon Law have been overwhelmed by the impact their initial litter pick has had and are delighted it has inspired others to set up similar Womble groups in their own towns and villages, locally and further afield.

“It was a couple of days before New Year when Bren and his wife Emma went out for a walk around Spalding, and they were a bit shocked by all the rubbish they saw, to the extent that they took some photos and videos,” recalls the group’s co-founder Sam.

“After talking to his brother Kieran, they decided to do something about it and asked a couple more of us to join them, so on New Year’s Day the four of us walked along a few roads, near to where we lived, and into town and collected about ten bags of rubbish.

“Given that we were still in lockdown, it was good to get out and see each other, but we are all Spalding lads born and bred and didn’t want to see our town messy like that.”

Bren posted about their clean-up efforts on Facebook and then set up a public group on the social media site for like minded people to join, which amassed 300 members in just two days. More group litter picks were quickly arranged in other areas of Spalding and its outlying residential areas – covering bigger grot spots including the set of old train tunnels behind Spalding Grammar School, areas around the Castle Sports Complex and Swimming Pool and the Applegreen service station.

Thanks to support from several town businesses, as well as donations from other individuals, the Wombles have been able to hand out around 600 starter packs, including bags, gloves, sanitiser and litter pickers to local residents and schoolchildren who want to get involved and keep their town litter-free.

“When we think back to the start of the year we never could have imagined it would get to the stage it has,” adds Sam.

“We did about six big picks around some of the town’s grot spots with everyone social distancing during lockdown and then people have been going out on their own in smaller groups, keeping their own streets clean. And we’re mostly finding that when an area has been done once, it’s a bit easier to keep on top of.

“We’ve found all kinds of things – lots of packaging from food and drink, PPE like gloves and masks and rather worryingly lots of underwear. There was also a handbag that had been lost for 12 years.

“Astonishingly we’ve had over 12,000 bags of rubbish that we know of reported, while others have been taking the odd bag home too.

“People have mostly been supportive, as has South Holland District Council, who we’ve got on really well with – any requests we’ve had, they’ve been met.

“I do think this all happened at the right time. While we were locked down due to Covid, people were pleased to be able to get outside and socialise with others – albeit at a distance – and most people have kept litter picking their own streets as things have started to open back up.

“There’s a real sense of community pride, which has been great to see – we’ve had people turning up in Womble jumpers and with knitted toys, it’s been brilliant. One couple have even bought a boat so that they can sail up and down the river each week and keep it clean too.”

As for the future, Sam says the Wombles of Spalding Common will keep on with their voluntary work to keep the town tidy and help to educate youngsters by supporting schools with litter picking packs.

Since launching in Spalding, the Wombling movement has also spread to other areas of the district with active groups in Pinchbeck, Holbeach and Sutton Bridge. The Long Sutton Wombles sprang into action at the beginning of February, after town resident Jay Martin noticed how much litter there was about during lockdown walks with his family.

Encouraged by the success of the Spalding Wombles he set up a Facebook group for people in his hometown, which now has over 150 members, many of whom meet up once a month for a big litter pick, while others go out in smaller groups, looking after their own neighbourhoods more regularly.

“It was just when we started walking around town we noticed how much rubbish there was,” recalls Jay. “It was just disgusting, and I was getting really annoyed. I thought we’ve just got to do something about it, and then having seen the Spalding Wombles and what they were doing, we thought we’d try and set something up here.

“Because of the lockdown situation, I think people were pleased to come out and do something useful.”

To date the group has found all kinds of things discarded around the area including a pushchair, school bags, numerous plastic gloves, DIY tools and even an old suitcase.

Jay said the group has been incredibly well supported by local councillors David Wilkinson and Jack Tyrrell and local businesses who have made donations to buy litter picking equipment, and also invested in items themselves to distribute among the volunteers.

“It is frustrating when you clear an area and then within three days more rubbish has been dumped,” Jay adds, “but we shall continue and some of the schools are getting involved too, so we’re working towards education at that level too and continuing to spread the word about what we’re doing.”

Find out more about The Wombles of Spalding Common and Long Sutton Wombles by searching for the groups on Facebook.

Photographs: courtesy of The Wombles of Spalding Common & Long Sutton Wombles

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