Empty drinks cans, broken bottles and crisp packets floating in the breeze. Litter is an all-too common problem in the UK and campaigns such as Keep Britain Tidy’s Love Where You Live, supported by Wrigley, are raising awareness and making a difference to outdoor areas all over the UK. Retailers have a part to play, too, and independents are seizing the opportunity to win over their communities by cleaning up and improving their local stores and surrounding areas, making their community a pleasant one in which to live and trade.
Staff faced an uphill battle when Gillett’s Spar Wembury in Plymouth, Devon, opened its doors in April last year. Rather than celebrating their shiny new shop, local people had misunderstood the store’s ethos. They felt threatened by its presence and were hugely concerned that it would ruin the identity of the area. “Local people thought we were a faceless national corporation that was going to put the local post office out of business,” says store manager Calum Fairnie. “There was animosity towards us, and people put up posters saying ‘Don’t shop at Spar, save the post office!’ so we needed to do something to win them over.”
There was no time to waste, so along with staff from Appleby Westward, Calum and his team decided to embark on a litter pick of Wembury beach. “The store is just a 15-minute walk from the beach, and it is an important part of the local area,” says Calum.
Armed with litter grabbers and bin liners, the team - plus some local volunteers - took to the beach. The weather was miserable, but spirits were high as the team scoured the beach, picking up drinks cans, old towels and debris that had been washed up on shore. Everyone involved in the litter pick enjoyed free pasties, tea and crisps courtesy of Spar, and they were delighted to find that their story received coverage in local paper The Herald.
“My supervisor put the photo of me from the local paper in our store window and lots of customers said well done and told me they would help next time,” says Calum. “It was simple to organise and it was nice to meet new people and do something good for the area. The volunteers who helped on the litter pick now come to the store all the time.”
As well as ensuring that the beach was sparkling, Calum makes sure that the store itself is also litter free. “We have two bins outside our store to encourage people to bin their rubbish, and we always make sure the store fascia is clean,” he says. “We weed the outside of the shop and sweep the grounds two or three times a week. Customers have high expectations and so we have to keep the store looking its best.”
He adds: “The difference between c-stores and other retailers is that we know our customers by name and are involved in the local community. People are much more environmentally aware these days and want to live and shop in a nice, clean area!”
Gravelle’s Budgens in Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire, has always helped out its local community with donations to local causes. But owners Paul and Michelle Gravelle felt that they could be doing more, so they called on marketing manager Emma Cameron to investigate.
She sought advice from one of the store’s regular customers as to what could be done to improve the local area. “We have a customer who knows all about Sawbridgeworth and we did a walk of the store with him,” explains Emma. “Although we had installed a new fascia in the past year, he felt that the outside of the store was looking a bit drab.”
With the help of their customers, Gravelle’s got to work on the area outside of the store. “It’s important to take care of the outside of the shop - you can’t have cigarette butts and pieces of cardboard littering the ground. If it looks scruffy then people won’t want to shop there,” says Emma.
Once any litter had been cleared away, it was time to focus on adding some colour to the exterior. “The existing flower beds needed weeding and were dipped down so you couldn’t see them clearly, so the first thing we did was to raise the beds, before adding top soil and then planting flowers,” recounts Emma. They were able to keep costs low - and help the environment - by using second-hand soil. “A local resident was having work done on their garden and removing a lot of soil so we asked if we might use it for our project.” Recycled materials from the resident’s garden made up more than 40% of the total content used.
Sourcing plants was relatively straight forward. “We sell lots of bedding plants at the store so we were able to source the flowers from our supplier, Savins,” says Emma. “It took three days to create the garden area. There wasn’t much cost involved as customers had volunteered to help and the plants cost no more than £50.”
The flowers are now in full bloom and have worked wonders in cheering up the local area. “Customers have given us really positive feedback about how lovely the flowers are and how nice it is to see them in bloom,” says Emma. Engaging with customers and acting on their feedback is a great way for Gravelle’s to show it cares about the community, and the team continues to carry out daily litter checks to keep the area spick and span.
When the Midcounties Co-operative set its sights on opening a new store near Walsall Wood, West Midlands, the group was determined to show locals that its arrival would have a positive impact on the area. “Because we were going to be a new team at a new store, we were looking for something we could get involved in to help the community, and also an activity that would act as a team-building exercise,” says store manager Jane Harney.
They discovered that the local Scout group was renting a piece of land, which was earmarked for a new community centre and Scout hut. But there was a lot of work to be done before building could start. “There was general debris and also bushes that needed cutting down,” explains Jane, so Midcounties began planning a clean-up operation. “It didn’t take a lot to organise it, just a few phone calls.”
On the day of the clean-up, 12 staff members donned special Midcounties Co-operative Volunteer bibs, armed with gloves, bin liners and litter pickers; ready to tackle the mess.
“There were carrier bags, bits of glass and drinks cans that needed clearing,” says Jane. “We filled the skips and cleared as much of the wasteland as we could.” In total, the staff worked for four hours litter-picking, and digging out weeds and shrubs. They were joined by the local Scouts and Brownies for the latter part of the day. “It was definitely a case of many hands make light work,” adds Jane.
The Express & Star and Chronicle local newspapers reported on the team’s hard work and word soon spread around town. “Customers were chatting to us about it, and the children involved all come in quite often, as well as the Scout leader and his family,” says Jane. “Because we’re a brand new store we had no relationship with the community so it was our way of saying ‘hello, we’re here and we’d like to support you’.”
It certainly did the trick, and the store’s staff are keen to ensure that the store is just as clean and tidy as the community centre plot. “Every day we do a store walk where we’ll put rubbish in the bin and clear the alleyway,” says Jane. “We also have someone who comes in and takes care of the garden area by the store and mows the lawn. It’s all important.
“We want a nice environment and take pride in what we do. We’ve had customers come in and say that they are sad to see kids drop litter on the road and are pleased to see that we take care of this area.”
The store hasn’t looked back since doing the litter pick and is on the lookout for other ways in which to help the local area. “We have a reputation of being a community retailer and litter-picking is a job that some people don’t like doing, but it is important that we do it,” says Jane. “If people tell us they have projects they want help with then it’s all good for the relationship with our community. I’m sure everyone would be glad to help out again.”
Cleaner and greener
“It’s unfortunate that some items end up as litter on our streets, but if - like these store owners - every retailer helped to take a positive approach to waste disposal we’d be a much tidier nation. Simply ensuring shoppers put their used crisp packets, sweet wrappers and drink cans in the bin where they belong is a huge step in the right direction. It’s great to see these retailers taking the time out of their busy work schedules to engage with their customers and organise successful community clean-ups.
“At Wrigley we strongly believe that one of the best long-term and sustainable solutions to litter is to use educational programmes, such as Love Where You Live, to encourage a change in behaviour among the minority of people who dispose of items irresponsibly.
“Wrigley is a founding partner of Love Where You Live - a new campaign from Keep Britain Tidy that aims to inspire, encourage and enable us to make where we live, work and play the kind of place we really want it to be - and our aim is to get more people involved in the campaign’s crusade for a cleaner, greener Britain. Since its launch last year, we’ve been busy encouraging members of the public to properly dispose of their rubbish and regain pride in their local community.
“From spreading the Love Where You Live message to all of our customers, to arranging local pick-ups with store owners across England, we’ve already received an overwhelming amount of support. If any store owners are interested in finding out more, they should visit www.lovewhereyoulive.org for more information on the programme.
“Love Where You Live is one of the many campaigns Wrigley works on and helps fund to encourage a behaviour change - it’s time for retailers to help put the sparkle back in their street and the pride back in their parade, helping make England a sight for sore eyes!”
Wrigley communications manager Louisa Rowntree