Gumbies Ambassador Series: Beach Cleaning with Helen

Here at Gumbies, we are passionate about caring for the planet. When it comes to things we can do to improve the environment, beach cleaning is high up on the list. 

With our head office a stone’s throw from the coast keeping our beaches clean is close to our hearts. Cleaning up our coastline seems to gain more and more importance. Every day more trash is appearing on UK beaches. The National Trust has discovered rubbish on our shores from as far afield as the Caribbean, Saudi Arabia and Canada, and decades old pieces of garbage such as rum from post-prohibition America and crisp packets from the seventies. This just proves that when things aren’t recyclable, they truly stick around for a long while!

But it’s thanks to wonderful volunteers such as our Gumbies Ambassador, Helen, who takes time out of her busy life as a mum and working at a university to do beach cleaning in her home town of Swansea. Recently appointed as a “2Minute Angel”, Helen is doing her bit, and we’re gonna look into how all of us can get involved, too!

Helen

Let’s find out a little bit more about how Helen got involved with the movement:

Hey, Helen! Tell us a bit about your background and how you got into beach cleaning.

I have always loved being by the sea, and I love the Swansea and Gower area where I live. I’m so passionate about our environment, and it feels like a day doesn’t go by without a piece of news about the state of our planet and the environmental crisis we’re facing. Having children, I want to do all I can to help improve their futures. This is me doing my little bit!

I first found out about beach cleaning through Surfers Against Sewage, both taking part in weekend cleans and then organising events on their behalf. Then I came across the #2minutebeachclean movement, which is a wonderful concept. Working at the university, which is right on the seafront, it was ideal to start organising beach cleans on a regular basis, encouraging colleagues to get outdoors on their lunch break, get fresh air, socialise, and do good for the environment at the same time!

This then organically grew to bigger events, and for the last year I’ve been fundraising to install #2minutebeachclean stations around Swansea Bay and Gower Coast. Soon we’ll have twelve stations to spread the message and provide equipment for visitors to do their own cleans!

Tell us about the community and the awesome people who accompany you on the cleans.

I have recently been appointed as a 2minute Angel, which means I’m responsible for looking after the stations in my area as well as organising local events. I love being part of the movement - it feels like a supportive family!

As lockdown eased again this year, I felt it was the ideal opportunity to start organising beach cleans in line with the government guidelines - especially with the recent media coverage about all the mess left on our beaches as people emerged from lockdown. We teamed up with various local businesses to organise cleans across the less accessible/more difficult areas, collecting the trash by boat and tractor. Next stop- helicopter!

The response has been overwhelmingly positive - hundreds of volunteers have turned up, local businesses have supported us by offering free ice creams, hot drinks, discounts in local pubs and shops and more. I’m busy organising the next one, as well as planning events with local schools, too.

Other than the obvious things like improving our seaside, what benefits have you found from beach cleaning?

Many, many benefits! It’s so good to get to the beach - especially post-lockdown, and it’s great to feel like you’re making a difference, even if sometimes it feels overwhelming or never ending. It’s great to get outside (in all weather conditions), it’s great for fitness and it’s definitely great for mental health. Not only do you get all the endorphins from doing a bit of exercise, but you’re getting the feeling of doing something good, and connecting with like-minded people, too.

I have made some brilliant friends through this, and it’s a lovely way to bring communities together and the opportunity for businesses to support a good cause (we’ve been getting some really generous donations towards our beach clean stations and equipment). Also -really important to me- seeing the younger generation getting enthusiastic about it is amazing. Kids love using litter pickers!

However, it’s not just about getting the beaches cleaned. It’s about raising awareness of where the rubbish is actually coming from. I really hope that it will prompt more mindfulness as to what we are using and disposing of, and where it’s ending up.

What advice would you give to those who are wanting to start their own initiative to clean up their area?

It doesn’t have to be a big deal! It only takes small actions to make a big difference. Or, as the 2minute foundation say: “it only takes two minutes”! Start off by doing your own litter pick. It doesn’t have to be on the beach - there are plenty of streets, parks, rivers and more that need love too. Most of this rubbish will inevitably make its way into the sea. Even if you make an affirmation to pick up a few pieces of litter when you’re out and about, you’re making a difference.

If you’re thinking about starting bigger events, I promise you you won’t be sorry. It’s amazing how many people want to volunteer. Social media and the local press are both great ways to spread the word and onboard local schools and businesses. Contact your local council and environment centre if there’s one nearby - they will hopefully have equipment you could borrow. And of course, if you need any help, I’m here for advice!

Finally, what do you love about your Gumbies?

I love the fact that they’re eco-friendly, and how they have an open sustainability pledge - it sits well with me. Being an outdoorsy, beachy person, I 'live' in flip-flops, and the designs are really funky and original - perfect for the beach. I am definitely going to be getting myself some slippers this winter, too!

Thank you so much for chatting to us about the wonderful world of beach cleaning, Helen!

Although the task of cleaning trash off of your local beach is a seemingly endless chore, we believe that doing your bit really is making a difference to our environment. Over thirty years of clean ups by the Ocean Conservancy, they’ve managed to collect over three hundred million pounds of marine litter, including dangerous plastic pollution, from shores across the globe. This improves the quality of our seas, the well being of marine life, and of course gives us more beautiful beaches!

If Helen’s work has inspired you to get your Gumbies on and get involved, there are plenty of initiatives looking for volunteers as well as ways to set one up yourself. You can find a beach cleaning event near you by taking a look at the National Trust website, and you can also take a look over on Twitter to find out how to get involved in the #2Minute Movement like Helen. You can also keep up to date on Helen’s activities here:

Instagram - @2minuteangel_hippyhelen

Facebook - @2minutebeachcleansswanseagower

Twitter - @hippyhelen

Even if there isn’t a fully fledged team near you ready to litter pick, we highly encourage you to grab some friends and get out into the sun this summer to help us make our coastlines a better place for everyone. A clean beach is a better beach, and without all the beach litter we can get back to enjoying our beaches a little bit more as we staycation this summer!