Lockdown in Fife: Soaring volunteer numbers as people emerge more socially aware
At the start of last year, the people of Fife, and Scotland as a whole, were plunged into the unknown of a global pandemic, panic buying and uncertainty was the norm as frightened people raced to grab the last jug of milk or pack of toilet roll while politicians scrambled to control the nervousness of the nation.
Schools were closed, all but the most essential workers were furloughed, and medical professionals braced for the impending coronavirus spike that was set to hit.
Fifteen months and two national lockdowns later, life is slowly returning to normal with people going back to work, schools re-opening, and essential services resuming normal operations.
Many Fifers have emerged from isolation with a new found social-awareness, and a want to help others and to make their community a better place to live, free from rubbish and litter.
From community clean-ups to solo litter-picks, the community spirit in the Kingdom is alive and well with more people than ever looking to make a positive impact in the areas that they call home.
This is reflected with the massive influx of volunteers that charitable organisations and community groups in Fife are seeing.
One of the organisations that has experienced a boost is Fife Coast and Countryside Trust – the charitable trust dedicated to giving everyone the opportunity to experience Fife’s bountiful coast and countryside, including many of the Kingdom’s most important wildlife sites.
Audrey Peebles, communications manager, said: “During COVID-19 we have been unable to run events as we historically have done, but as time goes on we are slowly returning to normal.
"We have been working closely with community groups and organisations who have been trying to make a difference in their communities with litter-picks and organised beach clean-ups.
“Throughout the COVID pandemic we have had many people looking to volunteer their time with us but we have had to be careful about organising groups as it is not safe to have a large number of people together at any one time – we’ve not stopped, we’re just working a different way.”
Audrey adds that the trust has had a big influx of people wanting to volunteer their time to help clean-up Fife’s coastline and beaches.
"There has been a large increase of people who want to volunteer with us,” she added.
"As a result of lockdown and with restrictions on travel people are definitely more aware of their surroundings and the places that they live.
"Because they have been at home as opposed to travelling to other places people are aware of their environment and how litter and rubbish impacts on their area.
"There are lots of great groups who are making a positive impact on their local areas, and hopefully when people see how clean and tidy it is they will keep it that way.”
Kirkcaldy’s Seafield Environmental Group has also seen a rise in the numbers of people willing to volunteer their time to help tidy-up the coastline and surrounding area.
Founded by Sally Walsh in 2004, the group is committed to the conservation, protection, and improvement of the natural environment and the historical heritage of Seafield Beach and its surroundings.
Sally said: “The pandemic has been really bad, but it has made more people appreciate the environment that they live in.
"During lockdown I actually held a presentation for Greener Kirkcaldy that highlighted how Seafield helped me with my mental health wellbeing, and how, by getting out into the fresh sea air just to breathe, helped me cope.
"The pandemic has definitely made people more aware of their surroundings, and that there are historical sites right on their doorstep that they never even knew were there.
"Since the start of COVID last year, we have been receiving lots of emails and messages from people wanting to volunteer – I’ve never seen so many people wanting to make a change to their environment.”
Sally said that people have been forced to wake up to the issues in their own community as travel restrictions during lockdown made them explore their local area.
"People have woken up to the issues of litter in their area,” she said. “They are confronted by how beautiful it is, but are also forced to ask why there is a problem with litter.
"People have realised that they have taken their local neighbourhoods for granted, before lockdown a lot of families would go abroad for their holidays, now they have really had a chance to appreciate what is on their doorstep.”
Another group tackling the Kingdom’s litter problem is Fife Street Champions – and it too has grown to over 2500 members since the pandemic started.
David Spence, who plays a major part within the group, said: “Since last September volunteers with the group have picked up over 16,000 facemasks and this year alone they have collected 152 discarded trollies.
"Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic we seen a large number of people wanting to volunteer to help clean-up the areas that they live in, and in March this year the group filled and lifted over 2500 bags of rubbish!
"As restrictions have eased off we are recording less bags of rubbish being picked up, but this is down to a lot of people returning to work as well as being able to get out more.
"Our volunteers have done a great job, some are totally dedicated while others take a more casual approach.”
“It’s really difficult to even explain how much work our volunteers have done, Andrew Dunlop from Cardenden picked out 26 tyres from the River Ore in one day and we have picked 360 bags of rubbish from the woods at Mountfleurie in Leven alone.
“It’s a great feeling once you have cleaned-up an area, and it’s also great to help out the community.”