Wickford Wombles: Town's litter-pickers driven by 'community spirit'

image copyrightWickford Wombles
image captionMembers of the Wickford Wombles gather for another litter-pick around the town

An award-winning litter-picking group's founder has put its success down to "good old-fashioned community spirit".

The Wickford Wombles has grown from a handful of women to more than 500 members in little over a year.

Volunteers take turns to scour the roads of the south Essex town, filling dozens of bags with discarded plastic and domestic rubbish.

Tracy Menzies said: "People feel very strongly about it. Little changes do make a difference."

image captionThe group is named after TV favourites the Wombles, who recycled rubbish on Wimbledon Common
image copyrightWickford Wombles
image captionCommunity spirit is priceless, according to founder Tracy Menzies

She started the group in February 2018 because of the amount of litter she found while walking her dog in local woods.

After she put a note on social media, six locals turned up, helping her collect 14 sacks of rubbish in an hour.

The scheme has since attracted 511 members on a Facebook page, where they exchange ideas on recycling, local events and fundraising.

"Doing their bit"

Miss Menzies said the team was "not doing the council's job", but helping it deal with litter piled up over many years.

"Unless you've been out picking up litter you have no idea how much is out there, in hedges, in ditches, under bushes," she said.

"The most amazing thing I've found is community spirit."

She said different teams tended to look after their own patch, such as the town's parks, dog-walking routes and daily commutes.

image copyrightWickford Wombles
image captionMembers of the Wickford Wombles regularly scour local streets and hedgerows collecting rubbish
image copyrightWickford Wombles
image captionVolunteers collect dozens of bags of plastic rubbish, including domestic waste and takeaway wrappings

The group, named after the fictional creatures who collected and recycled rubbish on Wimbledon Common, has won a volunteering award in the Basildon district and inspired like-minded groups in nearby towns Hockley and Pitsea - and even in Wales.

They also work with schools - and organise summer holiday scavenger hunts for children.

image copyrightWickford Wombles
image captionMiss Menzies says anyone can get "Wombling" - whatever their abilities or limitations

David Harrison, of Basildon Council, called the Wickford Wombles' commitment "absolutely brilliant".

He said the borough had been given £33,000 from central government to provide graffiti-cleaning kits, litter-pickers and gloves to help efforts.

image copyrightWickford Wombles
image captionThe Wickford Wombles gather several bags of strewn rubbish every day

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