Clean up after ourselves and the rest will follow

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We all have a role to play in keeping Edinburgh beautiful, argues city environment leader Robert Aldridge

Last August, members of a community in southwest Edinburgh made the news when they got together and approached the council for help to spruce up their neighbourhood. Using social media to upload photos of hotspots people wanted to see tackled, their efforts resulted in the Clovenstone Improvement Campaign, a day-long clean-up jointly run and supported by residents, the council and Prospect housing association.

After a patch of ground was cleared by council staff, a group of around two dozen civic-minded local residents teamed up to clear the area of litter, trim hedges and cut grass on communal back greens.

The “Go Clovie” battle cry was first sounded by local resident Samantha Ann McFarlane. Such was the first event’s success, she is now setting up a dedicated Clovenstone Environment Group and is busy working on plans for the next clean-up this summer.

Speaking at the end of the first Clovenstone clean-up day, Sam said: “When you live in areas like this, the council can come and do things but if your neighbour or someone you know has done it, you will be less likely to watch it being vandalised.

“People take more ownership and responsibility for areas that they have worked for themselves. No-one is getting paid for this. Everyone has come out on his or her own time. We all live here so we all want to make it better. I am very pleased with the results.”

What’s happening in Clovenstone may have generated media coverage, but it’s certainly not the only place in Edinburgh whose residents are keen to contribute to the positive look and feel of their neighbourhood.

In fact, local participation is nothing new at all. For example, in my own ward, the North Bughtlin Tenants Association has spearheaded excellent clean-ups alongside local housing associations, the council and the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. All neighbourhoods also run regular action weeks, which see the council, residents, community groups, businesses and schools joining forces to tackle particular hotspots or local problems, including littering and graffiti.

The council’s neighbourhood teams will soon mark April’s National Spring Clean month by offering community clean-up kits (comprising litter pickers, bins, gloves and so on) plus assistance to dispose of the rubbish collected.

Neighbourhood partnership meetings provide regular opportunities for residents to raise concerns or highlight issues, and we are very keen to encourage people to let us know about problems as and when they arise, so that we can deal with them swiftly.

This shared sense of pride in one’s community and the environment we all live and work in is central to the council’s ongoing drive to keep Edinburgh as clean and tidy as possible. As we know from the great response we’ve had to our volunteer snow wardens scheme, with more than 50 volunteers already recruited, many people feel very strongly about their community and want to play an active part in looking after it.

Of course, it’s ultimately the council’s responsibility to maintain street cleanliness standards, but I would argue that everyone who lives in, works in or visits Edinburgh has an equally important civic duty to perform. After all, it’s not the council dropping the litter in the first place.

If people dealt with their rubbish properly by using the on-street bins we could dramatically reduce the amount our teams collect. A staggering ten tonnes of litter is dropped in the city centre every week, and it costs nearly £2.5 million a year to clear up.

It must be said that the majority of people do dispose of their litter responsibly, but for those who don’t, the challenge is to find the best way of persuading them to alter their behaviour.

Early intervention, as in so many areas, is very important and we invest a lot of time visiting schools and talking to pupils. We hold regular workshops and assemblies, getting pupils to discuss what motivates people to drop litter and why littering is a problem.

This work by our environmental education team has paid off, with projects winning national awards, such as Currie High School’s lunchtime litter initiative in 2007.

Our overriding aspiration is to keep Scotland’s Capital looking her beautiful best. I am glad to say the vast majority of residents and visitors play a really important – and much appreciated – part in helping us achieve this goal.

As Sam McFarlane puts it: “It starts from your own front door. If you want others to care about your area and keep it looking nice, you have to show that you care about it yourself.”