Making it easy for communities ?

CleanupUK’s mission is to bring about stronger, safer and integrated communities by involving people in litter-picking activity. We believe fervently that it must be made easy for communities to come together to take action of this kind. The benefits of doing so (a stronger, safer community with happier, friendlier people in it) are much too important to be sacrificed in favour of caution or over-protectiveness.

But that, it seems, is exactly what was in danger of happening in Derby recently. People in the Normanton area of the city had been collecting litter for a number of years. As part of a council-backed network, the Normanton Empowerment Team were issued with a small number of litter-picking sticks and put them to good use. So far so good……..

But then something rather sad happened. The Council informed the group that, under health and safety legislation, it had no choice but to order them to down tools as they had not been trained to use them. One of the residents made the rather interesting remark that the Council still expected them to use wheelie bins but that the Council hadn’t provided training on using them. “I feel that the Council is doing everything it can to deter us from carrying on as a group but it is not going to stop us”, one member of the group commented.

Another point made by the residents was that they would stop using the Council’s equipment if it was necessary for all users to have training. They want as many people as possible to be involved and this would make it more difficult if they all had to go through a training process prior to using litter-picking equipment.

The Council’s response was that, while the local authority wanted people to help keep their streets clean, there were dangers and it was legally obliged to train them if they were using Council equipment. “With litter, there could be needles in what they pick up or large items could be heavy”, the council spokesman said. The team were, apparently, allowed to hold onto the litter-picking sticks until they could be trained how to use them properly.

Apart from the Normanton residents’ own disbelief at what had happened, there were a few fruity comments posted by others who read this news on the Daily Mail’s website. A few of the more repeatable ones are :

“I might just start dropping litter and, if I’m told to pick it up, I’ll tell them I can’t on the grounds of health and safety”.

“It’s part of the British Constitution that anything is legal unless there is a law forbidding it. Unfortunately, EU law is the reverse – everything is illegal unless the law says it isn’t”.

“Please, somebody – tell me you’re making this up”.

I would add that thousands of volunteers all round the UK borrow litter-picking sticks from their local council on a regular basis and are trusted by their council to use them safely and sensibly. Of course, there are dangers in litter-picking and you need to be sensible about how you go about it but there are limits……

But, I am delighted to say, the story had a very happy ending. Local landlords and letting agents, Propertywise, have paid for the Normanton Empowerment Team to have their own equipment.

Michelle Gardiner, a landlord of several properties in the Normanton area, was among those who contributed to the cost. She said: “I think the area needs some help and the team are doing a great job. What happened with the council is sad.”

So please, local councils, cherish and encourage the voluntary activity of your local people and don’t let anything get in the way of their magnificent contribution to making their communities cleaner, safer and stronger.

Leave a Reply