‘Love where you live’ - litter picker on mission to clean Felixstowe even in lockdown
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
‘Love where you live’ - that is the message Felixstowe environmental activist Debbie Bartlett is sending to Suffolk residents on her mission to rid the county of harmful waste.
Mrs Bartlett is the founder of Litter-Free Felixstowe, a group with hundreds of members that meet up every few weeks and gets to work on cleaning up the seaside town.
She started the group in November 2018 after being inspired by the work of naturalist and historian Sir David Attenborough and the BBC’s Blue Planet documentaries, which highlight the impact litter can have on wildlife and the environment.
On arranging the group’s first litter picking event, Mrs Bartlett, who lives in Felixstowe, feared her plea for help would be ignored - but she was delighted to see the response from the community.
She said: “It all came about after the Blue Planet series.
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“As the year progressed, there was so much plastic on the beaches that needed cleaning up. I was pleasantly surprised by how many people turned up to help.
“You always worry if people don’t turn up, but they came in their droves.”
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Litter-Free Felixstowe began to arrange meet-ups every few weeks and months, gaining a reputation for their efforts in ensuring the town’s many beauty spots and landmarks, such as the beach, pier and woodlands, remained clean.
The group has also begun wearing matching T-shirts and holding competitions in the town to help spread the message and increase visibility.
But March’s coronavirus lockdown forced meet-ups to be cancelled for the next few months, with social gatherings banned.
As restrictions began to be lifted at the start of the summer, people began flocking back to resorts such as Felixstowe - with the sudden increase in litter becoming a cause for complaint for many residents.
Mrs Bartlett said: “During lockdown the beaches and everywhere around Felixstowe were immaculate, it was lovely.
“But immediately post-lockdown it was really bad. People were going out, eating fast food and takeaways in the open air when the weather was nice.”
In response, Mrs Bartlett organised an army of volunteers to spend the first weekend in July cleaning up the resort, all while following guidelines on gatherings and social distancing.
The group’s first event in several months, which coincided with ‘Super Saturday’ and the reopening of pubs and restaurants, attracted around 100 people armed with bags and litter pickers.
The success of the event prompted Mrs Bartlett to organise another meet-up just over a month later, when dozens of volunteers set to work tackling the litter issue in Felixstowe’s Grove woodlands.
Litter-Free Felixstowe has proved to be a family affair in the two years since its creation having attracted members of all ages, with the size of the group allowing volunteers to tackle many different parts of Felixstowe at once.
However, the recent introduction of the second lockdown has forced any upcoming plans to be scrapped as once again we batten down the hatches and stay home to curb the spread of the disease.
Despite this, Mrs Bartlett hopes people will still be able to do their bit independently, working to tidy up the resort as they go about their daily exercise.
Mrs Bartlett is a firm believer in educating about the impact litter can have on the environment, having penned two childrens’ books on the issue in the last year.
Her second book - titled ‘Just One World’ - was written during the first lockdown and aims to encourage children to remember the condition of the environment while people were at home for a prolonged period.
Mrs Bartlett added: “The group isn’t just about litter picking - it’s about educating people about the issue.
“We’re trying to get that hopeful message across. In these difficult times, there are some positives.
“We’re covering a much, much wider area. People have just been so brilliant. I can’t praise them enough.
“The main message is to love where you live.”
Mrs Bartlett’s efforts over the last couple of years have not gone unrecognised by community leaders.
James Mallinder, East Suffolk Council’s cabinet member for the environment, said: “Debbie is wonderful by being unique in her enthusiasm and organisational skills.
“Her work for Felixstowe makes such a difference.”