Written by Maria Sell
Arguably the impact of the pandemic has changed resident’s view of their local towns and villages.
With many working from home, more time has also been spent exploring the surrounding areas while not being able to venture further afield.
For many this ignited a desire to look after, or in this case, help clean up their local communities.
Wombles of Ware Abouts is trying to do exactly this.
When Andy Murphy and his wife Claudia Kohler started working from home following the first lockdown in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic they, like so many, spent more time taking walks through the neighbourhood and surrounding area.
Noticing the amounts of rubbish they thought: “It’s disgusting, why is no one doing anything about it?”
So once they became aware of the issue, they started litter picking by themselves.
Murphey said: “Over a couple of months, we must have picked 50 sacks of rubbish.
“Just in the streets and open spaces around here. And with all the greenery that had died back at that time of year, there was just stuff that had been in the bushes for years.”
So they decided they needed to get more people involved and, over a few glasses of wine, the idea of Wombles of Ware Abouts was born.
In March this year they set up a Facebook page and group with the same name.
The idea was for everyone to adopt their own street, with Murphy keeping a map updated on the Facebook group that shows which streets have been adopted and which areas need more support, which, he adds, has been “effective and helpful for managing the group”.
While the initial take-up was slow, once word of the Womble of Ware Abouts group got out via various local communities and environmental groups everything changed.
“All of a sudden the numbers of people that were applying to join just sort of mushroomed. We went from 30 people in the first three days to 200 by the end of the week and we’ve now got 1,500 members.”
There are now three more “Wombling” groups for different regions in Hertfordshire, including Hoddeston and Broxbourne, Hertford, and one for the local waterways, set up by a narrowboater that Murphy got talking to on the Facebook group.
“So basically it stretches from the M25 right up to Royston and almost all the way to Cambridgeshire.”
Not only has it helped clean up the streets and surrounding countryside, it’s also provided many people with a much needed sense of community, particularly during the difficult and stressful periods of lockdown.
Murphy added: “People have said to us, it’s really helped their mental health because they’ve been able to go out and do something positive.”
Once more Covid restrictions have been lifted, he anticipates that more organised meet ups could happen.
But the mental wellbeing aspect isn’t the only benefit Murphy sees, he also regards the educational benefit as an important aspect.
According to Murphy 80% of the Wombles of Ware Abouts members are women, many with children of primary school age who tend to take them along.
”All those kids will get a taste for litter picking and when they grow up to being teenagers and adults they won’t be the ones littering the streets with their chip paper, or their McDonald’s wrappers, or facemasks.”
Moreover, a couple of the local councils and organisations have also supported the initiative, such as Hertford Town Council which “dusted off an old litter picking scheme”.
Murphy explains, “they’re prepared to give litter picking sets to people who join them. So if someone from Hertford joined the Wombles we can say go and talk to the council to say you’ve adopted a street with them and they’ll give you all the gear.”
While a small organisation called Ware in Bloom, which looks after the planters on Ware High Street in summer, donated some money with which the Wombles of Ware Abouts bought litter picking sets that include a picker, some gloves and bin bags as well as a high vis jacket.
These will be made available to community groups such as primary and secondary schools, youth clubs, and scouts among others, and they can be picked up from a central point.
So how can you get involved?
The easiest way is to join their Facebook Group the Wombles of Ware Abouts so you can adopt a street of your choice, or just help out while out and about on your daily walk. Every bit of litter picking helps towards the goal of a litter free neighbourhood.