The River Wandle

It’s 9:30am on a Sunday and I’m up to get changed and eat breakfast ahead of my first stint of volunteering in the community. I’m travelling to Poulter Park in Carshalton to join a number of other volunteers who will remove waste from the River Wandle. I arrived at 10:45am and felt a bit lost, I think partly due to my shyness in unknown territory. The majority of people seemed to know what they were doing, and were almost ready to commence. I walk over to someone, tell them it’s my first time and asked what I need to do, where, and with what. I am told a couple of bits, and that Polly will run through the health and safety details.

Soon enough a group briefing followed, outlining the tasks ahead, as well as the reasons for us being there. It struck me to realise that there is a loophole in council legislation that states they are only responsible for waste on land, not water, and therefore the responsibility and cleanliness of the rivers lies with no one. No one at all. Hence the need for volunteers carrying out such tasks. Polly then outlined the three roles on offer:

  1. Get the waders on, grab a litter picker and a plastic tub to put rubbish in and get trawling.
  2. Work along the bank to help horde the rubbish from the water to the wheelbarrow, to which you move it to the waste site, and repeat.
  3. Pick up a litter picker and a bag, then go picking litter up from the surrounding area.

I opted for role number two. Too novice to get in the water, but too keen to leisurely wander the park for rubbish – I wanted to get involved enough to help the waders getting stuck-in to all sorts of watery grime.

We moved all the equipment down to the first station point and stood around watching the men and women in the water, which was strange at first as I felt a bit useless, even though I knew I had to wait for them to find something before the bank crew could step in. I was asked to do a quick inspection down the river to see if any trolleys or other objects were poking through the surface of the water to which, thankfully, there were none. I came back and the wading team had started to discover bigger things and pull them out, and first up was a doozy – a double bed mattress. Fantastic. Time to muck in!

The wading volunteers in action.

To say this double bed was a faff to get out from the water is an understatement. About three people in the water and a four of us on the side pulling it out – it was carrying water and silt inside of it, let alone the weight of the materials being doused in mud and water too. Cathy [also her first time] started to hack away some of the foam to help reduce the weight and the mattress eventually came out. A charming river eel then made a swift exit to the squeals of a few of us [not me, obviously], we disseminated the mattress in to the wheelbarrow and then took the first few wheelbarrows of the day off to the dumping point.

By now I had heated up from the initially freezing morning of 2°C, even if my gloves were still wet and a little cold. Once this first task came then everything followed pretty quickly too. More things in the water as well as the grassland around us and plenty more trips to the dumping point and back. Planks of wood, wheelchairs, an oil barrel, a car seat, bags and bags of netting/bottles/cans/general waste and more were discovered in just a few hours. As the pile of waste accumulated I could not believe how disgusting and lazy people have been to simply throw or drop their litter into the river, rather than wait for a bin; or even those who consciously went out of their way to dump carpets or bedroom furniture into the river, rather than take it to a dump – surely it takes no more effort to dispose of it correctly? It’s not just the public though, as there were certainly remnants of objects that had clearly been dumped by businesses of sort.

The dumping point ready for the council collection.

We stopped for lunch around 1pm. I say lunch, I had two tea’s, two cakes and two biscuits. Not sure if that constitutes as lunch, but I loved every bit of it, and didn’t bother running to my car to get my pre-packed lunch, apple or banana. It was interesting to observe how no-one was surprised by the pile. I was told they had seen worse, and I believed them, they had become accustom to seeing such a mess each month. Lunch stopped and we continue working further up the river. Many more discoveries of the normal litter found along the River Wandle, with some more obscure and hefty objects towards the end – including a bucket of concrete, and a yellow plastic Kerscher lid from one of those self-driving power washers. We continued through to around 3pm, where everyone packed up and went on their way. I had to snap a couple of photo’s before leaving, as I do not think people would believe what you can pull out of a river in just a few hours.

It was a really good afternoon. Although the temperature was less than desirable, it was great to be a part of something where everyone has one goal and there is no financial or material gain from it, simply a sense of giving and accomplishment – which I really like. There was clearly a core of individuals who are there every month, and it would definitely be good to become a regular fixture in their attempts to keep the river clean.

I have registered my interest for a few more throughout the year, unfortunately restricted by work events throughout the summer, which I am sure is the most fun time to do it. In the mean time I will look to get my volunteering fixes elsewhere.

If you want to get involved with volunteering around the country then hit a google search for your local area – it is so easy to find stuff you are happy to get involved with. If you are London based, check out the Team London app, or view the Team London website to get involved. Or, if you want to help the Wandle Trust with their River Cleanup program, check their website here!

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