A group of residents are working hard to help Wokingham clean up its act.
Last November, Tony Howell laucnhed a litter picking group to keep the streets tidy. It now has more than 300 members.
Mr Howell has been litter picking all his life, and spent the first lockdown cleaning up Winnersh by himself.
“I’ve been doing it since I was six years old, and now I’m 63 and still at it,” he said.
“When I was a kid, I used to pick up rubbish and chuck it in the bin on the way to school.
“As I got older, scuba diving became a hobby of mine and I would go swimming and pick rubbish up off the bottom of the ocean.”
Mr Howell said he has always found litter “incredibly irritating”, and began taking to the streets of Winnersh in January 2020 following a trip down Bearwood Road.
“The gully, on the left hand side of the road, was full to the brim with water and rubbish,” he explained.
“That motivated me to find out about the council’s Adopt a Street scheme.”
Armed with 10 rubbish bags and a high vis jacket, he headed out on the streets of Wokingham for the first time.
“Once I got going, I was litter picking all summer,” Mr Howell said. “It was something to do when in lockdown and it made me fitter because I was walking massive amounts everyday.”
Wokingham Borough Council launched its Adopt a Street scheme to encourage residents to pick up litter in their area and collect it in a dedicated rubbish bag. Then, it can be put out on collection day like normal refuse.
And after launching his own Adopt a Street, Wokingham Borough group on social media last year, Mr Howell said he has been “staggered” by the response.
“Within a week, more than 100 people joined the group,” he said. “Four months on, we’ve now got more than 330 members.
“It’s a wonderful thing to find so many people who care like you do — they are doing such a wonderful thing.”
He said the team’s hard work is already making a difference, too, collecting more than 800 bags of waste since November.
“We’ve got around 70 or 80 people who take part in a weekly litter pick and you can physically see the benefits as you drive around Wokingham and Winnersh,” Mr Howell explained. “And it’s very rewarding for us, too.
“So many people come up and thank you as you’re picking litter which is lovely.
“It’s also an opportunity to get out, do some socially distanced exercise, and help the community and wildlife at the same time.”
Annabel Yoxall, one of the group’s members, said it is a “good focus” for the community.
“After all the difficulties we have all been through over the last year, there are definitely significant psychological and physical benefits to having a shared common goal,” she said.
“It’s so rewarding to see the results and there’s something quite addictive about it.
“It’s really nice to know you’re doing something good for the environment.”
Despite not being able to meet in person, Ms Yoxall said the Facebook group links everybody together.
“It helps us motivate each other, share our work and seek advice and support,” she added.
“It makes you feel connected which is so important, because there has been a real disconnect over the last year.”
And the group is always on the lookout for new members in order to keep momentum going once lockdown restrictions lift.
“If the borough is cared for and looks nice, people tend to treat it with more respect,” he said.
“It’s only a tiny part of the population who litter and don’t care, and we help make the area nicer for everybody living here.
“It’s also something people can do as and when they please, with kids or on a dog walk, so it’s very easy to do.”
To find out more about Mr Howell’s group, and how to get involved, search for Adopt a Street, Wokingham Borough on Facebook.
To find out more about the Adopt a Street programme, visit: www.wokingham.gov.uk/rubbish-and-recycling/bins-and-litter/volunteer-to-help-clean-your-street