One way to boost your mental health and fitness – and make a difference

At Annabel and Grace we firmly believe that we are not too old to do things or embrace new experiences and we are lucky enough to have some fabulous guest contributors to prove this! Please welcome Elaine Clueit who explains what has given her a boost of positivity…

There has been a lot of discussion about how the pandemic and lockdown has been good for the environment – lowering Co2 emissions, clearer skies, being able to hear the birdsong, people finally seeing the benefit of nature.  How have we paid nature back for those benefits? By trashing it. The issue the UK has with litter and fly tipping has once again reared its ugly head.

One way to boost your mental health and fitness - and make a difference. We are not too old to do things. Sutton Park in Sutton Coldfield
Sutton Park

The one thing that has kept me going is regularly daily walks.  From the heady sunshine days of lockdown 1 to the long slog over the darker, colder winter days of lockdown 3.  As the weeks turned into months I couldn’t help but notice the increasing volume of litter.  I live in Sutton Coldfield – a leafy Royal town on the outskirts of Birmingham.  We are fortunate to have good green spaces but what was happening to them?  Sutton Park – the largest urban park in Europe, hunting grounds gifted to the town by Henry VIII – was smothered in litter last summer when restrictions were lifted.

One way to boost your mental health and fitness - and make a difference. We are not too old to do things.

I have always picked up litter, particularly if it was a potential danger to wildlife, but the volume of was overwhelming.  Then a few weeks ago I saw someone clearing litter from a local road wearing a hi viz vest with the legend ‘Walmley Litter Action’. A local group had been formed via Facebook and people who cared about their local environment were coming together to make a difference and improve their local area.

In the two months since the group was formed we currently have over 230 members and the difference we have made to our local area is incredible. Most are funding their own litter pickers and hi viz jackets. Local councillors have joined in and have provided what equipment they can. We have lobbied local businesses to clean up their land.  The group even made it to BBC Breakfast news – along with another local group in the area next door.

One way to boost your mental health and fitness - and make a difference. We are not too old to do things.

Plans are afoot for group litter picks when restrictions allow.  I’ve no doubt that new friendships will be formed with some fun along the way. In the meantime ‘bubbles’ and pairs are working together and enjoying the company and the satisfaction of giving something back to the community.  All the people I have talked to say the positives of doing something to help has boosted their mental health and fitness. It has certainly given me a boost of positivity and purpose.

Our Facebook group is a constant supply of achievements, intelligence on hot spots, projects and information about this nationwide issue. It has also made me smile as people swap tales of their most unusual finds. Our group leader found a £10 and a few days later a couple of ladies reported they had found a ‘Tena’ (sic) – but not quite the kind they had hoped for. Then someone reported that they had come face to face with a tortoise on their pick. I was distraught! That tortoise was obviously in trouble and shouldn’t have been left there. Imagine my relief and laughter when I was told it was a very real looking plastic one.

One way to boost your mental health and fitness - and make a difference. We are not too old to do things.

How do people react when they see us?  Mostly smiles and acknowledgement. Some say ‘Thank you’ and there has been occasional gifts of chocolate and cups of tea. Some just look and put their eyes to the ground as if embarrassed by it all. Sadly there has been some abuse – but a very small amount.

I know there are groups like this all over the country as well as national action groups. Why? Because litter and fly tipping in Britain is a national disgrace. We are recognised as the dirtiest county in Europe – statistics show that 700,000 plastic bottles alone are littered every day. Fly tipping is on the rise – anyone can get a license to collect household rubbish for less than £300 for three years. Cowboys are dumping their collections in our countryside and towns. The BBC highlighted this on a recent program called Rubbish Tip Britain.

One way to boost your mental health and fitness - and make a difference. We are not too old to do things.

It’s nothing new is it?  Remember ‘Keep Britain Tidy’ and seeing Margaret Thatcher on Parliament Square wearing her blue suit and heels and wielding a litter picker?  The lockdowns have meant more people outdoors and consequently more litter.  What is it in our national psyche that makes this kind of behaviour socially acceptable?

We know that local and national government have had other matters on their minds over these past 12 months but this has been going on for years. This issue isn’t going to get any better without firm and decisive action from all levels of government – as well as a major change of behaviour across all society.

However we can all lay a foundation stone to help it along – like Andy who started our group. An individual can make a huge difference. Whether it’s joining or starting a group; lobbying businesses to clean up; reporting fly tipping; contacting your local councils or MPs – let’s make our voices heard. If you haven’t already – come and join us!

More stories of all kinds from guest writers can be read here