I’d only moved to Chatham Road in March and was worried my neighbours would see me as a ridiculous busybody. I’d already started pestering the council for residents’ parking. This new project was bound to set eyes a rolling.
But the first person I saw, a local builder taking his Staffie for an early morning walk, totally blew me away with his reaction: “Fair play to ya mate, fair play.” Those few words were exactly the encouragement I needed.
It got better than that, though. The next day the Clock Cafe’s lovely and universally-known owner Frank shouted excitedly to me in the street: “Mark, come in, I’ve got a present for you.”
It wasn’t the kind of present most people get excited about but it had me very nearly jumping for joy. Frank had one of his staff present me with a pair of council-issue litter pliers. I can tell you, they’re awesome.
That early positive response from the community has given birth to an almost-daily litter picking routine in Chatham Road, covering the stretch of road and pavements from the Clock Cafe down to the junction with Maas Road.
I’ve litter picked in Maas Road a couple of times but feel I’d be taking on too much to do it regularly. There are also quite a few properties in Maas Road whose front gardens and paths are litter-strewn. What can I do about these? Litter trespassing? I’m not sure.
So I’ve settled for the small part of Chatham Road, in addition to the Methodist Church car park.
In addition to that early self-doubt I asked myself why I should pick up the litter in Chatham Road if no one else does. There was a risk I’d start to feel resentful.
But I’ve settled on this point of view, which I hope doesn’t come across as too self-righteous: picking up the litter is my gift to my neighbours. If they wake up and look out of their windows at a clean street and feel better about life as a result then what more could I ask for? It’s a good start to the day. And that in my opinion is life-changing.
The other way in which litter picking has improved my life is through the friendships I’ve made. Frank and I now regularly sit down and have a chat over a coffee. I’ve befriended neighbours six or seven doors away whom I would have never got to know.
I’m on first name terms with folk at the church – that probably wouldn’t have happened had I not started litter picking.
These friendships have created a sense of community and a feeling of safety. We get to know each other and as result look out for each other.
We’re also now working together to solve problems. For example, there’s a patch of land between the rear of United Carpets and the Methodist Church which is used by some nice people as a place to eat takeaway food, consume booze, urinate and vomit. The people in Chatham Road are now working with police and the city council to get this land sealed off, so no one has to look out of their living room window at someone taking a leak.
Litter picking isn’t a dirty chore that should be left to someone else but is actually an empowering, life-enhancing activity.
As for that aforementioned “obsession” (I know most people find dropping litter very annoying), but I think it stems from growing up in a rural village, where fewer people means fewer problems.
In the countryside, cleanliness is taken for granted and the annual best kept village competition is a high profile event. I don’t know what part schools play nowadays, but as a child we endured anti-litter poster competition after anti-litter poster competition. We had it drummed into us from an early age that dropping litter just isn’t done.
I lived in Stirchley before Northfield and regularly used to walk along the canals, as I had during my childhood in Staffordshire. I found myself mentally comparing sorry state of Brum’s canals with the pristine towpaths of the Shropshire Union. And I think this was the spark for my obsession.
I also think we can make our part Birmingham as clean as the Midlands’ rural areas.
If you’re interested in joining me in picking up litter, but perhaps are hesitating for the same reasons I did, then why not get in touch. I’m on Twitter as @markbinnersley and can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m dead keen to set up a litter-picking group for Northfield.
There’s also support on hand from those lovely people at www.lovewhereyoulive.org. They’ll send us litter picking materials and tabards to get us started.
If a group of us went around Northfield picking up litter in such a high profile way, imagine what a great example that would set. I believe it would discourage people from dropping litter and generate more pride in our town.
I’d love to hear from some fellow litter haters! We could come and clean your street.