A gnome, a knive and 25 bags of rubbish, a volunteer’s experience

Last week I spent the day with Thames21 and the Big Waterways Clean Up 2012 project working with a group of eager volunteers who were cleaning up the Regents Canal in Hackney.

I have volunteered many times before, but this was my first taste of a canoe-based clean-up of the Olympic waterways, and whilst it was extremely hard work it was also a lot of fun.

So what was I doing there?  Good question, and one I asked myself as I donned my hi-vis vest and safety boots on a grey and overcast Wednesday afternoon in late February.   As the Project Coordinator of the London in Bloom-led Mad About Meadows project, I spend most of my time writing funding bids and deciding on the right wildflower seed mix for the variety of sites we’re working on.  The Mad About Meadows project has taken inspiration from the new wildflower meadows on the Olympic Park, and like Big Waterways Clean Up 2012, we’re trying to improve the areas around the Olympic Park ready for the 2012 Games later this year.

So naturally, Mad About Meadows and Big Waterways have teamed up, and with volunteers will plant wildflower meadows along East London’s rivers and canals, which will serve as one of the main entry points to the Olympic Park. (See some of our upcoming events here). As part of a joint effort to improve East London’s environment, we want the spectators experience to be positive and hope they remember the waterways and the wildlife they attract for all the right reasons.

So having put on my protective equipment, I joined the other volunteers, who were also keen to do their part in clearing up part of the waterways. The enthusiasm of those taking part was infectious, and before I knew it I was transferring bins full to the brim of rubbish that had been collected in the boats to be bagged up an placed on the side ready for collection. My favourite found item was the garden gnome, although a discovered knife hinted at deeper problems in the area.

Three hours and 25 bags of litter later, I had seen first-hand the remarkable difference that a group of motivated volunteers can make.  I am now really looking forward to the events that we will be delivering with the Big Waterways Clean-up 2012 team and hope that we attract an equally great group of volunteers.

Hugo Ross-Tatam
Mad About Meadows Project Coordinator