Bountagu – a small community with a big heart

Litter picking in Big Local area, Bountagu, is about much more than cleaning the streets – it’s about breaking down barriers and building a stronger sense of community. Bountagu is the name chosen by residents for this ‘Big Local’ area in Lower Edmonton, Enfield, North London. It’s one of 150 locations in the UK to be awarded £1 million over ten years, as part of a Big Lottery scheme to help local people to make a positive difference to their community.

The exotic sounding name is actually an amalgamation of the names of the two main streets in the area: Bounces Road and Montagu Road. These roads are surrounded by about 1,500 households and many different nationalities, including Turkish, Portuguese, Somali, Romanian and Polish families.

Like many of the more deprived districts of central London, the area has long been blighted by fly tipping and litter. When Bountagu Community Outreach Worker, Elham Asskoumi, heard about the work of CleanupUK she seized upon the opportunity to do something about an issue that frustrated many of the residents.

She contacted CleanupUK’s Senior Project Coordinator, Sarah Hayes, and was delighted by the support she received: “Sarah’s amazing – down to earth and always there when we need her.”

Bountagu’s first ever litter pick was held on Friday 22nd May 2015. The event was publicised in the local press, including the Turkish newspaper; households were leafleted and local schools and businesses were contacted. “With Sarah’s help we were able to raise awareness that this is everyone’s problem, not just the council’s,” says Elham.

The hard work certainly paid off. Word spread throughout the local area and around 100 residents turned up on what was to be a beautiful sunny spring day. Volunteers included around 30 primary school children, teaching staff and the area’s councillor Nesimi Erbil

Local resident and volunteer, Saada Ibrahim says, “It was very sociable. There was a great feeling of camaraderie.”

“Cleaning is universal…it gives people a sense of purpose and pride in their area.”

The event was a real community effort. The Bountagu Hub opened its doors for the day; CleanupUK provided the litter picking equipment, posters and flyers; the London and Quadrant Housing Trust provided a large skip; the London Borough of Enfield donated rubbish bags and the local Greggs gave out enough donuts for everyone.

Age and mobility were no barrier either – while volunteers cleared the streets, older and less able-bodied residents had the vital task of providing refreshments back at the Hub. By the end of the day, around 40 bags of litter were removed and the skip was filled to the brim.

“It was a fantastic day,” Elham says, “It was so satisfying to see how it brought people together and broke down barriers. Cleaning is universal. And coming together in this way gives people a sense of purpose and pride in their area.”

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Saada adds, “It’s about giving something back and taking responsibility. I want to inspire people to stop chucking things into the street. When I’m litter-picking I’ll always make an effort to talk to people – teenagers will chat to me and I’ll try to get them to think about their area and how a community works. How they can make a difference too.”

Bountagu has held regular monthly litter picks ever since and, with CleanupUK’s help, in October 2015 it launched a ‘Keep Bountagu Tidy Campaign’ to tackle the root causes of fly tipping. The first campaign meeting was attended by around 100 very passionate residents, business owners and estate agents, as well as local police, councilors and, of course, Sarah from CleanupUK.

At the meeting, people were encouraged to share their opinions and ideas on how to make the area feel more neighbourly again. Many wanted to get back a sense of pride in their surroundings that they felt had been eroded. It was a fantastic opportunity to give residents a voice both to vent frustrations and to come up with positive solutions. Ideas included ‘more green space’, ‘more bins’, ‘enforced fines’ and ‘free skips around the area for a few weeks.’ The next steps in the campaign are an e-petition and a promotional leaflet that will be translated into many locally spoken languages.

Bountagu’s mission is to make the area a better place to live in by building a stronger community. It’s fair to say that CleanupUK’s role in helping to keep the streets rubbish free plays an essential part in that vision.