Rockits Rid the River Soar of Rubbish
As I approached the car park of the Leicester Outdoor Pursuits Centre (LOPC), I didn’t quite know what I expect. Along with seven other women from my roller derby league, the Leicestershire Dolly Rockit Rollers, I’d signed up to help clear rubbish from the river and riverbank, as a way to give back to our local community. One of our members, Emma, has volunteered with the LOPC for a long while now, and she was enthusiastic about the event, wondering out loud to me about whether she should change into her water shoes or not. I looked down at my jeans and t-shirt dubiously – while I had some sturdy walking shoes, they weren’t that waterproof! What did Emma know that I didn’t?!
The team gets briefed
It turns out that everyone who had signed up for the day (around 30 volunteers in total) ended up on the water, either in a canoe or, for the brave few, on a stand-up paddleboard (SUP). Kitted out with buoyancy aids, paddles, grabbers, and loads of empty plastic bin bags in two colours, we hit the water, keen and exciting to find out more about the task in hand. David, our fearless leader, instructed us on the basics of manoeuvring our crafts (“Paddle forward to go forward, paddle backwards to slow, stop, or go backwards, and you’ll figure the rest out as you go! If someone falls in, shout ‘swimmer’ and we’ll come rescue you”) and spent slightly longer explaining the basics of litter picking in the river. “Avoid anything too big or too heavy; if you see anything sharp, let us know and leave it alone; try to sort waste that is obviously branded into a separate bag, as there’s a study being done by the University of Nottingham to catalogue waste and hold companies accountable; anything clean and plastic, set aside for the Leicester City Council’s art project; everything else goes into a bin bag. Leave the coconuts alone!”
The team get to work
And with that, we were off. My boat had three people in, and required all of our roller derby skills, including balance, coordination, teamwork, and communication to get us into the tight spots along the river bank where rubbish accumulates. David warned us not to get “sucked in” to trying to collect a tantalising bit of trash stuck in the weeds – such attempts were, according to him, time wasters and rarely successful. After a few trips down that rabbit hole, my crew learned the finer points of spotting waste, moving the boat in close enough to grab it, counter-balancing the boat to allow someone to lean far out to grab something if needed, how to hold the craft in place, and how to coordinate the three different bags we had going for the different types of waste. It was exhilarating – and exhausting! The reaching, grabbing, and paddling all worked different upper body muscles, and we really could feel it by the end, despite being a physically active bunch of women.
It wasn’t easy…
Our friends on SUPs had other challenges – trying to coordinate their paddle, litter grabber, and multiple bin bags while trying frantically not to fall off of what looked like an oversized surfboard into the smelly water! By the end, most SUP-pers were on their knees, sitting, or lying on their board, in order to help coordinate all of the different actions needed and keep them safely on the board. One of our number, Smash and Byrne (we all have roller derby alter-egos), had an unconventional technique for getting under low-hanging branches to get at the best “treasure” – lying flat on her back and gliding under the foliage while simultaneously paddling gently. I’m not sure how she managed it!
Missing out on fame…
Between the eight of us from the Dollys, we collected approximately nine or 10 bags of rubbish in just a few hours. Combined with everyone who was there volunteering, the day ended with an impressive mountain of bin bags and a load of raw materials for the Council’s art project, as well as a tidy heap to go to the university for study. As we were moving the last bags of waste and putting the boats away, the Canal and River Trust were doing a live-stream on Facebook to advertise the event, interviewing different people about the day. We just missed out on our five minutes of fame, although I did manage to mention on the stream that one of the Dollys found most of an iPad in the mud and managed to retrieve it! Other finds on the day were bicycles, a rusty chair, a kettle which had seen better days, large chunks of metal etc, but the common things were drink cans/bottles and plastic sweet wrappers.
Doing our bit…
Overall, it was hard work but we left feeling glad to have contributed so positively and to have had such a fun time. LOPC runs monthly clean-ups throughout the year, and they have a reward scheme where if you complete five clean-ups, you can sign up for one of their more normal activities for free. Many of our fellow volunteers were on their second, third, or fourth clean-up, keen to tell tales of past finds and glory. I can see why people come back over and over – me and my teammates had a fabulous time. We got to have a laugh, learn new skills, get a workout, and give back by cleaning up. We can’t wait until the next one – will we see you down on the river? Visit https://www.lopc.co.uk/about/get-involved/river-clean-team/
for details of upcoming dates and how to get involved.
Written by ‘Simply The Beast‘