Shaftesbury’s Hilltop Litter Pickers Win The First Rachel Caldwell Award

A team of thirty volunteers who keep our streets and open spaces tidy have been recognised for their huge contribution to Shaftesbury life.

Over the last five years, the Hilltop Litter Pickers have filled over 2,900 black bags. If those sacks were stacked up in a pile, they’d stand higher than Ben Nevis! “We can pick up 15 or 20 bags every session. It’s just gobsmacking really,” explained member, Keith West.

The group was presented with the first Rachel Caldwell Award, in memory of the Shaftesbury Civic Society founder, during the society’s meeting at the Town Hall on Thursday. Litter Picker Ty Crook said that the group felt honoured to receive recognition. “We’re over the moon. We’re going out again at the beginning of July and I’m going to take this award out then so that all of the group can see it,” Ty said.

Ty and his wife Mel moved from Winchester to Shaftesbury six years ago and they were shocked by the amount of litter lying around. But instead of moaning, they decided to take direct action and pick it up themselves. “After a year we got fed up with it, though” said Mel.

Just as they were becoming disenchanted, Mel and Ty read a letter from Pete and Liz Askin, published in the Blackmore Vale Magazine. The Askins were also removing rubbish. So the two couples joined forces to clean-up Shaftesbury. “It was much better going out as a group,” recalled Mel.

The volunteer litter picking squad and the couples’ friendship has grown over the years. “We meet for tea in the Salt Cellar around four or five times a year,” Mel added.

Left to right: Liz Askin, Sir John Stuttard, Hon. President of Shaftesbury Civic Society, Ty Crook, Mel Crook, Keith West and Peter Askin

The Hilltop Litter Pickers now go out cleaning during the first and third Wednesday afternoons of the month. “We go out for an hour. Ty, Keith or Mary bring the bags and we go off in twos or threes. “We know the litter hotspots,” said Liz.

The lay-bys and the Ivy Cross area in particular require the most attention. “There are coffee cups and takeaways there, because of the fast food outlets,” Liz says.

Liz says it can be, “a bit soul destroying,” to see rubbish accumulate again in the places that the group has just cleaned. But the kind comments from passers-by is usually enough to lift the litter pickers’ spirits. “We often get a ‘thank you’. We had four of five ‘thanks’ yesterday,” Liz said, adding, “It’s nice to feel that there are people out there that appreciate the work we do.”

The group is well respected and has developed good relationships with business and local institutions. The Dorset Waste Partnership and the Council’s refuse team are ‘fabulous’ according to Pete. And Keith praised both Shaftesbury School and Tesco for their help and assistance.

The area around the supermarket’s petrol station used to be a litter hot spot until the Hilltop Litter Pickers spoke with the store management. “Tesco put a fence across where the litter was being dumped,” said Keith. “Now, people might drop rubbish on the road instead, rather than over the wall, but at least that is visible.”

Keith was pleased with how quickly Shaftesbury School took action, following a conversation with the Litter Pickers. “The kids were not well educated in litter. It got slung into the grass,” said Keith. “Someone called the school and within a day the headmaster had arranged for it all to be picked up,” he added.

Liz says that when children understand the problems associated with litter, they’re keen to act responsibly. “The power of young children to shame adults is just unbelievable,” Liz said. “If our little grandson spots something on the road on the way to school he will say ‘that it is not right’ and he’ll pick it up.”

The group believes that decision makers could play a greater role in litter reduction, too. Pete explained that planners go into great detail in discussing the building design and road layout of new estates, such as Shaftesbury’s Eastern Development. But he feels that litterbin provision is often overlooked. “It would make a huge difference if there were litter bins that people could put their litter in,” Pete says.

The group says that a change in the law could make a massive difference. If consumers were charged a refundable deposit for bottles, fewer would be discarded. “A few years ago the government brought in a 5p surcharge on each plastic bag,” said Pete. “We used to pick up hundreds of plastic bags every time we went out. As soon as that charge came in, plastic bags disappeared. I am sure that a recharge on cans, plastic and glass bottles would mean the same. That would result in a huge amount of litter that would not be left on our roads. There should be no excuses from the supermarkets saying that they can’t put recycling centres in,” Pete added.

If you would like to join the group on their next litter removal session, email hilltop.litter@btinternet.com. Ty is keen to recruit new members so the group can maintain the current level of volunteers. “Some of our members have had medical problems, such as operations, and they’ve had to hand in their litter pickers. Young or old, it doesn’t matter. Everyone is welcome. Come and join us and take pride in Shaftesbury, our lovely hilltop town,” said Ty.

Thanks to Ty, Pete, Mel, Liz, Keith and their crew, Shaftesbury remains a lovely place to live. And if can’t get your gloves on and grab a sack, at least show your gratitude when you next seen the group in action. “Often people will toot their car horn, wave or say ‘thank you very much, you’re doing a grand job’. You only have to have one person doing that within the hour and it makes it all worthwhile. It makes you feel good. It’s amazing,” said Liz. “And it’s good exercise,” she laughed.