Litter-picking hero Wombles join green team keeping their communities spick and span

Litter picking groups have been joined by hundreds of volunteer Wombles

Thursday, 18th March 2021, 7:00 am

If you've seen a large number of rubbish bags being left by the side of the road where you live it is probably thanks to a growing band of eco-warriors on the trail of litter louts.

Northamptonshire has seen an explosion in the membership of 'Wombles' groups as thousands of public-spirited citizens have enrolled in an unofficial army of litter pickers.

Named after TV's famous tidy Wombles, the groups have become a collective force criss-crossing the county battling with the tide of rubbish combating litter bugs and fly-tippers.

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Adrian Watts and his efforts

Using the Northants Litter Wombles' Facebook site as a central information point and forum for Wombles to share successes and photos, groups have been formed in every community.

Regular litter picker Adrian Watts joined the Northants Litter Wombles, with his own group based in Burton Latimer.

He said: "There is a community being built around the environment. The Wombles movement has grown from a few people to more than 1,700 people very quickly. People want to help tidy their local area. They have been walking and seen all the rubbish.

"On New Year's Day, I took my three-year-old granddaughter out for a litter pick because she had noticed how much litter there was and she wanted to help. In one and a half hours, we collected four bags of rubbish.

Tinker Williams who founded Kettering and Corby Wombles

"We have been learning along the way and now we have a really good understanding with the council who will pick up our bags if we leave them by the bins."

Wombles in Kettering and Corby have been told that bagged rubbish left by official bins in clear bags provided by the council will be collected by the street cleaning teams.

Mr Watts said: "We've been asked by people 'Is the Queen coming?' when they see how tidy places are. I am now starting to encourage links with businesses and we have been talking to councillors who are engaging with us and backing us paying for equipment.

"I'm putting out that positive message. Now that the litter has been cleared away I want to encourage wildlife and bees. The next step is to get people to pledge to turn over three square yards of their garden, which isn't much, to wildlife.

Wellie Wombles founders Freddie and Georgina Harris

"We only need 1,666 people to pledge and we have the area of a football pitch. It's not about the money, it's about getting to the root of the problem. At first I wanted to save the world, now I just want to save Burton Latimer. The Wombles movement shows that people do care and are passionate."

People in Burton Latimer - under the joint services team from Corby and Kettering borough councils - can pick up official bags from outside Mr Watts' home in Alexandra Street and from Oathill Rise in Burton Latimer.

In Kettering, eco activist Dez Dell has been organising regular litter picking events for several years. Although Covid has prevented groups meeting as normal, support bubbles have been able to carry on caring for their communities and joining the ranks of the Wombles.

He said: "During lockdown, people have been going out for walks and have noticed just how much rubbish there is. There is only one council litter picker in Kettering, and he can only pick from council-owned land and public spaces.

Corby Wombles cleared an area near Morrisons, collecting 133 bags of rubbish in 12 hours

"People are really appreciating their local areas more and getting out on their walks. It is something that they can do - pick the rubbish in an area and you can see an immediate difference. You get that sense of satisfaction.

"There are so many people who are picking up litter, the Wombles movement has brought them together."

With the move from separate councils to one unitary for the whole of North Northamptonshire, the four councils have been dealing with hundreds of extra bags of discarded rubbish from roads, streets, verges, parks and open spaces.

The community movement encompasses like-minded people and individuals, some in existing groups and some that have sprung up in the jaws of the Covid pandemic.

Groups include Barton Wombles, Burton Latimer Litter Wombles, Corby Eco Group, Corby Wombles, Corby Old Village Litter Pickers, Finedon Wombles, Gleneagles Community Action Group, Gretton Litter Wombles, Keep Kettering Tidy, Keeping Rothwell Clean, Kettering Green Party, Kettering Wombles, Mawsley Environmental Group, North Northants Eco Forum, Oundle Waste Less, Stanion Wombles, Wellie Wombles, Wellingborough Eco Group and Wollaston Waste Warriors.

Many groups were already set up pre-pandemic but it has been the daily routine of walks around the neighbourhoods that appears to have boosted the numbers taking part as organised events cannot take place.

Dez Dell and Simon Stokes

Wellingborough's Wellie Wombles, a group set up by Freddie and Georgina Harris, started as Wellingborough Eco Group and the groups now cover East Northamptonshire as well as Wellingborough. Members share locations of litter picks and photos of the bags of rubbish collected.

Group member Jonathan Hornett volunteers at the weekly Tuesday Tidy Up that uses the Victoria Centre as a collection point for litter picking equipment.

He said: "I think people have been so frustrated to see the litter everywhere. They have become more aware of their local area during lockdown and even though we did litter picks every week, the Wombles have taken it to another level. People realise that they can make a difference. They are getting out of the house more and they are taking pride in their area. People are sick and tired of the cuts to services and are taking a real interest in their town. We have people from all walks of life who join in - old, young, people who were born here people who have moved here recently.

"We have built up a really good relationship with Wellingborough Norse (street cleaning service for Wellingborough Council). They follow our Facebook page and pick up the bags we leave on the verge."

The Wellie Wombles group has an interactive map to allow members to upload photos of their collections of bin bags and tag in their locations.

Rubbish collected by the Wombles varies from council to council. In Wellingborough, Norse staff follow the Wellie Wombles' Facebook page to note where items for collection have been left in official orange rubbish bags but away from official bins to discourage fly-tipping. In East Northants, people have to inform the council where wombled rubbish has been left to organise collection. Joint services for Kettering and Corby councils advise that bags of rubbish, in the see-through council bags, should be left by official council bins.

Tinker Williams set up both the Kettering and Corby Wombles sites, inspired by Dez Dell. She has seen numbers grow from a dozen in 2019 to 200 - for Kettering Wombles - and from zero to more than 450 members in Corby.

Ms Williams has seen her groups grow with Kettering's Wombles collecting 400 bags of rubbish last month, a total that has already been exceeded in March.

She said: "People are doing it for their daily exercise. They can do it in their bubbles and with their kids. We also have mini-Wombles.

"I think the people who are littering are mostly adults - there are a lot of energy drinks and beer cans. I was taught if you can't find a bin put it in your pocket. We need to get the message out that it's not acceptable to litter."

She said: "People in Corby are so community spirited. There are local organisers who distribute the bags and pickers and act as admin on the site. We have been nominated for a Spirit of Corby Award so I'm very proud."

Lesley Brown, from Great Oakley, joined Corby Wombles, volunteering her time on litter picks and advising Wombles.

She said: "We're so popular now we struggle to get equipment but the council has supported us brilliantly. We have to tell members they have to have their own.

"We have also had some litter pickers being reported to the police and the council which is a shame. When we cleared Morrisons' car park we collected 133 bags in 12 hours.

"We are very lucky to live in a town with such beautiful green spaces."

As a thank you to the younger members of the Corby Womble group, Ms Williams is hoping to give them a special treat with donations of Easter eggs. Anyone wanting to donate to the mini Wombles' cause can contact the group via Facebook.

Litter Picking Guidelines:

- When litter picking, only do so as individuals or with people in your bubble, on public land such as parks, footpaths or local streets.

- Always maintain a minimum of two metres distance from other people and wear face masks when collecting bags and/or equipment.

- Never put yourself or others at risk, always avoid rivers, steep banks and busy roads.

- Wear suitable clothing including hi-vis vests, covered footwear and protective gloves whilst out on a litter pick.

- Never pick up sharp objects, including needles and glass. Do not touch hazardous items, including asbestos and bottles of chemicals or urine, report if found.

- Don’t attempt to move large items or clear up fly tipping, report if found.

To report the location of bags or large items/fly-tipping, hazardous/sharp objects, call Wellingborough Norse on 01933 234520; in East Northants, call East Northamptonshire District Council on 01832 742055 for Kettering Council call 01536 410333, for Corby call 01536 464242.

Skye Summerton, Wellingborough Morrison's Community Champion joined in