This past year has presented challenges like no other. Yet, despite this, volunteers in neighbourhoods across Scotland have come together, with an amazing sense of pride and community ownership to excel as they work with us to combat climate change and to tackle litter and waste.
Our research has shown that in the last year, over 40 per cent of people have spent more time using outside space in their neighbourhoods, reconnecting with their local environment and communities. As a result of this, many people are looking to us for support to help them protect and enhance the places they love.
Covid-19 has forced us all to do things differently. It has created opportunities for us to bring like-minded people together across the nation – despite being so physically apart – in common cause.
As people started to notice the bird song, the changing seasons, the beauty of where they lived, they also clocked the levels of litter, the dog fouling, the unloved patches of their neighbourhoods. And as they did, new opportunities presented themselves to us – the chance to reconnect with our existing audiences and reach new ones to support them to take action. We have found ways to provide interactive training sessions online, to share our campaign materials, survey forms and information more widely, to host Q&A sessions, and to network and engage remotely with our audiences. The appetite and enthusiasm for what we are now offering online has been incredible.
The communities we work with across Scotland have adapted too, developing innovative ways to keep their activities going, and taking on new projects. Although the pandemic is still the focus for many, the climate and nature emergency we are facing is driving a loud and clear call for a green and just recovery as well as more local action.
Fittingly, the theme for our two long-established community environmental improvement initiatives, Beautiful Scotland and It’s Your Neighbourhood which we run in partnership with the Royal Horticultural Society, this year is ‘climate and nature friendly’.
Over 210 groups, from the Scottish Borders to the Highlands, have registered with us for these initiatives, ensuring the places they care about are looked after under the three pillars of community participation, environmental responsibility and gardening/horticultural achievement. As part of the theme, we have been able to distribute packets of pollinator-friendly seed bombs to them all, to help create a buzz and some blooming beautiful places across Scotland.
Many of these groups are also volunteering to tackle lockdown litter in their neighbourhoods and our iconic beauty spots, surveying, cleaning up and campaigning locally as part of our Clean Up Scotland campaign.
It is clear many of those we support don’t want to return to the old ways of doing things, they want to do more to reconnect with their local neighbourhood and volunteer their time locally.
Our challenge as a charity going forward is to harness this change of emphasis, and to support communities across Scotland in new ways to address the environmental issues which matter to them and us.
Perhaps, now is the time for a different approach – one where the role communities play and the actions they take, make a real difference. Where individual actions can help transform our communities, protect our wildlife and improve our local environments, and at the same time build an improved sense of community cohesion and a purpose of empowerment and wellbeing.
We are here to help you achieve this. As a first step to giving back to your community why not pledge your support for our Summer Clean. Let’s make all of Scotland beautiful again.
Catherine Gee, Deputy Chief Executive, Keep Scotland Beautiful