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Tackling the trash: Inspiring litter heroes keeping Peterborough tidy

The Covid pandemic has shed light on those who are constantly fighting to save lives and keep the country afloat, including health workers, postal workers, supermarket staff, and waste collectors among others. 

But at the same time, there have been so many unsung heroes who have worked hard to make a positive impact despite the challenges. 

Peterborough Litter Heroes is one such group, and despite the pandemic the volunteers have not stopped clearing out rubbish left by others in their local areas. 

‘Trying to keep on top of things’, that’s the view of one of them who has been inspiring dozens of people to get behind the litter campaign. 

Harry Machin runs the Thorpe Gate river care Litter picking group in Peterborough and organises local litter picks. For more than five years, the group has been looking after the area around the River Nene from the town centre to the Boathouse pub, including the Boardwalks nature reserve. 

Despite limitations due to the lockdowns, Harry and the team have been doing the best they can to keep the area clean. But down the line he hopes people in key roles including local councillors can get involved in these litter picks, as he encourages more people to join in. 

Last March, as part of the Great British Spring Clean, several litter picking events were organised in Peterborough by local groups.

However, they had to be cancelled due to the first coronavirus lockdown, and the litter pickers are not sure when it’s likely to return, keeping the current circumstances in mind. 

“Litter picking in the lockdown has been challenging,” said Harry, adding: “We have been doing what we can in our capacity. When there was no lockdown, groups of six were getting together and collecting litter. And then when the lockdown was introduced, we were going out solo or with one other person, socially distanced of course.

“But it’s not quite the same. We normally have a dozen to 15 people out and about at a time on these litter picks, which are usually on weekends. It helps to lift large items that are dumped in the area.  

“In some of the areas we visit we get a lot of people sleeping rough. When they move away, they leave behind tents, rain sheets, boxes, clothes and other items. It usually requires a few people to move the larger items, which is not possible when you go out on your own.” 

Which areas have they found particularly challenging? 

Harry said: “Woodston has been bad for needles in the past. The areas we do are not so bad with needles, but we do get the occasional couple. Where we litter pick, we get loads and loads of cans. 

“During lockdown, areas around Gladstone street, Taverner's Road underpass, and Bright Street have been very bad.

"Litter is a blight to society and people need to take more pride, but they don’t care. 

“I don’t know how I feel about the litter picks - It's a 'mixed bag' of feelings. I'm happy to see the area clean but it's frustrating to know it’s going to be back again very soon. 

"But if we don’t do it, chances are it will be ankle-deep in rubbish- so it’s key to stay on top of it. You can’t neglect a pile of rubbish.” 

Harry suggests better enforcement for littering can help reduce the problem.  

He says: “Litter picking is definitely not the solution to this problem. We need better enforcements and people should be held accountable. 

“I have heard of a deposit scheme where you return glass bottles and cardboards and cans which will give you some monetary benefit. This law is yet to be passed and when it does, I think it might be able to help. 

“We would also like the MP, local councillors to get on board and set an example. They can come along on litter picks and encourage more people in their wards to take it up as well.” 

The group has been growing despite the pandemic restrictions, with more people inspired to get involved and take on the streets with their grabbers and pickers. 

This is the motivating factor for Harry that made him join the group over five years ago, that still keeps him going. 

Harry said: “I enjoy litter picking. It is a great form of exercise and gives you a chance to meet people, and interact when you are allowed. I am self-employed so I try and make time to go out, and organise the the litter picks 

“When we are out and about, people stop to say they appreciate it and also to ask how they can join - that's what I want. I would like people to spread the message and encourage more people to set up their own local group. 

“We then exchange contact details and keep them informed when there is a litter pick being organised. Those who can make it come, there’s no rule that you have to. We see some people regularly, some people once in months, so it depends on what suits you. 

“We are happy to offer support in setting up a new group and helping with the equipment which is sponsored by Anglian Water and Keep Britain Tidy. 

“I have a list of over hundred people who want to be informed of when we are going to be out next time, and the list is growing. 

“The council has been very supportive to our group. We collect the rubbish and leave the bags next to bins- particularly the one near the Asda stairs - and let them know. They come and take it away for us. 

“I am hoping 2021 is going to be a better year and we can use the Great British Spring Clean as an opportunity to spread the message and get more people on board. Every little helps.” 

Members of the public who would like to join in the litter picking campaign can get in touch with the team here.