Poplar Pick Up Party

Poplar’s ‘Property Guardians’ help to protect their community by taking part in CleanupUK’s Beautiful Boroughs Project and bagging up the local litter.

On the edge of Tower Hamlets, Poplar is a mainly residential area, just east of Charing Cross. Like the rest of the borough it faces challenges, including poverty, poor quality housing and unemployment. Despite that, CleanupUK has managed to tap into community spirit from an unusual quarter.

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The Poplar Pick Up Party was established in March 2013 by Mel Glass and has been meeting every Wednesday ever since. CleanupUK have provided equipment, advice and helped publicise the weekly litter pick. Mel says “it was really easy to set up the group. CleanupUK was very helpful and I had five people turn up in the first week. He adds ‘it’s good to know that we belong to something bigger – that there are other people in different areas doing the same thing.”

This small, but dedicated group of local residents managed to amass over 70 bags of takeaway food wrappers, packaging, cans, bottles, crisp packets and plastic bags from local streets in their first three months.

But what makes the Poplar Pick Up Party a little different from our other groups is that many of the more active members, including Mel and his daughters Rosie and Jessica, are ‘Property Guardians’. Property Guardians pay a minimal rent to live in empty buildings and protect them from vandalism.

In the case of Mel, his family and many of the other litter pickers, they live in the iconic, but decaying Anderson House. Ripe for regeneration, this block of local authority flats is due for demolition over the next few years, but in the meantime its guardians are committed to four hours of community work each week as part of their rental agreement.

Mel states, “I started this group, not just because I needed to fulfil my commitment, but because l could see the real value of litter picking. There are 20 or more Property Guardians in Anderson House and we get at least four or five of them to help every week.”

The Poplar Pick Up Party has been incredibly successful in empowering local residents, building community spirit and encouraging involvement in fighting the blight of litter in this area. As Mel puts it, “it’s a great way of making new friends -we go to the pub after each weekly clean up. But even more importantly the effects of what we are doing are clearly visible. We make a dramatic difference in cleaning our neighbourhood. Being part of this group has definitely given us all a greater attachment to our local community.”