Inspired by David Attenborough, Michelle started litter-picking in December 2019, getting together a group of friends for a beach clean. There was a huge amount of interest in the session, so she expanded her work in February 2020 to her local town. Lockdown was a great catalyst as so many people got involved when they were doing their daily walks.

“I was watching a show on litter proliferation in the seas, and it made me anxious about the environment. I thought to myself, I can sit here all day and watch programmes like this, but what’s the point? I decided to act so that litter was no longer in the environment, and this helped alleviate my climate anxiety. So, I started with a beach clean which are always really positive – you’re protecting turtles!”

Mental health, community safety and crime – how litter picking can help 

Litter picking can have a substantial impact on the people and communities that get involved. Billingham Tidy Up is a great example of this in action. Michelle has numerous stories of how litter picking has benefitted the people who have taken part, including someone in her group commenting on how much they would have suffered during lockdown had it not been for the activity.

In Billingham, litter picking is also making the communities safer. Michelle and her team have found several knives when out with their litter picks ranging from machetes to kitchen knives and meat cleavers. Billingham Tidy Up have also removed a BB Gun from a local ecology park next door to a children’s playgroup, keeping the children and community safe by removing these items from public spaces and circulation.  The BB gun was in a bush near houses and a main road, not far from a primary and secondary school.  They also found an adapted meat cleaver was found in some undergrowth in an ecology park not far from a pre-school building.

Bringing communities together 

Despite the interesting finds when out litter picking, Michelle has always felt safe in her local community, and tries to be as engaged within her community as possible. To get more people litter picking, she loans out equipment to other litter pickers and schools in the local area.

“There’s been a big difference in the amount of litter in the streets since we started, and I think some of that is down to the fact that there’s less historical litter around. I found a crunchies wrapper from 1992 when I was out litter-picking a few weeks ago.
Lots of the people that I’ve spoken to are very grateful, and passers-by express their gratitude as well. It’s made me feel a lot more connected to my local community and I have friends that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. It’s not just people either, I’ve lived in this area for about fifteen years and have explored new places that fall outside my normal routine. I also feel a newfound sense of ownership in relation to the areas that I litter-pick, and a frustration if I see the areas littered.” 

Cleaning-up with CleanupUK

Project coordinator Laura got in touch with Michelle to see how CleanupUK can help Billingham Tidy Up reach more people and have the most impact through our expertise and insights in litter picking. We’re working with Michelle to help encourage more people in Billingham get involved in litter picking, one old crunchies wrapper at a time. 

“It’s been nice to have a community, and CleanupUK has really helped with that,” said Michelle.

Get involved 

“Doing good does you good, so come and get involved. You’ll be surprised at how cathartic it can be, and you know you’ve made an immediate difference.”

If you want to get involved, email Michelle on or check out their Facebook page. Just this week they've hit 7,000 bags of litter collected! Amazing and saddening at the same time.