How one London street poured a cup of lockdown kindness and upped their eco credentials
As restrictions in the UK ease, it’s a great time to reflect. One community in SW London has done just that, with some kind, caring and sustainable new habits that we can all learn from.
Back in March 2020, a small Streatham road tried to lift spirits with two speakers in a front garden and some communal Sunday tunes. What happened next changed a community.
It all started with a distanced-disco WhatsApp Group which turned into a caring, sharing hub that helped reduce waste and built a more conscious and green community.
This is a blog about how one London street upped its eco credentials overnight… and some tips for how you could do the same.
By Tasha - WAKEcup mama and Leigh Orchard Close resident
To share is to grow
It takes one person to set up a WhatsApp Group to get your green rolling. You can be that person who starts offering random bits, just to see what happens. You’ll be surprised.
A few ways we got greener in lockdown...
We started by talking and sharing the basics - food, milk, ideas to source food we couldn’t get hold of. The more you chat, the more everyone relaxes and that’s a great way to kick-start a sharing revolution on an urban street.
When it comes to sharing, don’t be scared! Dive in and offer up anything you don’t want… and take whatever you might find useful.
♻ A half a bag of unwanted flour could be someone else’s delicious cake
♻ An old delivery box could be a crafty rocket ship or fun Easter game
♻ Getting rid of a table that got left out over the winter? Offer it around. A quick sand and a bit of teak oil brings it back to life. One person’s trash is another’s treasure (especially if they have the time and vision)
♻ Don’t skip those paving stones after renovation - put them on a free site or ask the neighbours. A good jetwash could transform your landfill slabs into a new patio
Most things deserve a second life and someone else might have the creativity to give it that. Ask before you throw!
Reducing food waste and deliveries
Lockdown meant shortages or simple food access problems for those shielding. Many had dietary needs and struggled.
Those who could, shared their food delivery slots. And now we all share our deliveries. We have regular shopping shout-outs on the WhatsApp Group and items are just added to people’s lists. All paid up with contactless payments.
Sharing food and deliveries is a great way to reduce your footprint, support those that can’t get out and just ‘up’ the kindness in your community. Simple and effective!
Buying in bulk is another way of saving money and being more eco - it massively reduces the excess supermarket packaging waste, saves money and is a cost-effective way to buy and share in a little community.
Things like spices, rice, flour, pasta can be bought online in huge bags - we also bulk bought fruit and veg from New Covent Garden wholesalers like www.iaharris.co.uk in lockdown and shared everything out.
DIY and gardening gardening stuff can be bought in bulk too. A ton of compost delivered in a reusable bag versus buying several smaller plastic bags and using multiple trips, by different houses to a garden centre, is way more economical.
Coffee is another good one to buy in bulk. Invest in a coffee machine (you could even pick one up on Freecycle or other free site), grab a good eco reusable cup like WAKEcup and you’ll never pay for an overpriced coffee again. Plus coffee grinds make a handy soil fertiliser that you can share with others.
And that’s just the start. Here’s a few more ideas...
Try your hand at urban foraging
So easy to do at a distance. Blackberries, apples, pears, figs, wild garlic, green gage, plums, damsons, elderflowers, cobnuts, herbs, nettles. Cities can be rich foraging ground.
The Urban Forager is a good book to get you started with loads of recipes ideas - an eye opener to a new world of free food https://www.hoxtonminipress.com/products/the-urban-forager
Research and have a look around the commons, green spaces and even overhanging garden trees and bushes (always nice to ask the owner though). Even in urban streets and parks, there’s a bounty to be had - and it’s fun!
If you can, grow your own
We’re lucky because our street is an old orchard, so apples and pears are shared and left in boxes in front gardens for people to take what they want.
If chutneys or jams are made from the fruit borrowed, it's offered to those that donated it.
In the summer, we juice and make lollies for the kids - or add a shot of tequila to make cocktails for the grown-ups. Something for everyone!
The power of the pallet and we love a skip dip
As London went into lockdown, city dwellers built up and out for more space. Discarded pallets and skip salvage provided a huge source of materials. Some things should never go to landfill.
We’ve saved and recycled:
♻ a butlers sink (now a planter)
♻ a Doll's House now restored and gifted
♻ old planters brought back to life with sanding and some bright yellow paint
♻ old pallets cut and shaped to make front garden Christmas trees for decorating
♻ old decking off-cuts and leftover scaffolding boards turned into brand new planters
Creating new life from an old pallet
One neighbour transformed his unused drive into a mini allotment made out of pallets with a bug hotel, bird feeder and beds for communal veg built in. A magical place for kids to grow and learn.
An unwanted piece of artificial grass was weeded, jet washed and laid alongside the pallet allotment as a child-friendly, safe space. Wood destined for the tip was saved, painted and made into a blackboard for the little ones to enjoy.
The cost? Nothing for materials - the creative time and talent of one man, priceless!
Why buy when you can recycle and share?
A few things we all share in our road to reduce landfill waste and money:
Toys, games and puzzles
Garden bits… from seeds, seedlings, varnishes, DIY, garden waste collections
Plastic milk bottles - used for gardening to protect plants or store seeds
Old baby muslins - used to strain stock or cut up for cloths (for cleaning and/ or face cloths)
Old baby plates and cutlery - we give them to the kids for mud pies and role play games
With kids of different ages on the street, unwanted clothes and uniforms are shared and passed around
Donated sunflower seedlings, given to every child on the street for a growing competition, had a second life as squirrel and bird food. Some dried and ready for planting this year
Sharing has just become part of the street’s culture now. Our mantra: Don’t buy, if you can share!
Donate, donate, donate… some ways we gave-back, even in lockdown
We dropped off our unwanted books to local community book libraries like https://www.facebook.com/LouLittleLibrary/
We supported The Trussell Trust food banks with distanced donations of cans, dry food and household goods.
One neighbour even donated his time to create a short film for The Trussell Trust to support their #HungerFreeFuture campaign https://www.trusselltrust.org/
Baby buggies, clothes and equipment were given to Little Village - like a food bank, but for family and essentials for babies and young children https://littlevillagehq.org/
So when the charity shops were closed, we got creative and found places that still needed, and were taking, donations. A quick online search will help you track down similar in your area.
And finally… the tech that made us greener and the loo roll that didn’t bum us out
When the toilet roll went AWOL, Uranus and Who Gives A Crap punched up! Recycled, ethical and great quality loo roll delivered - with 50% of profits donated to help build toilets and improve sanitation in the developing world https://uk.whogivesacrap.org/
Plus their creative boxes make great craft play, the roll wrapping can also be used for craft and by cutting a loo roll in half - you can use it to plant seedlings and avoid unnecessary bought plastic. There’s loads of creative recycling ideas on their @whogivesacraptp Instagram page
Freecycle was our go-to for sourcing and recycling - local not-for-profit, basic and easy free sites. A place to get anything and give away anything. You just need to be quick on the draw to be first to collect.
The Olio App - the zero waste free food app that isn’t just a place to find free food that local businesses are giving away. Lots of great non-food things can be found on there too - have a play and see what’s being given away for free in your area!
Local zero waste Facebook Groups are great and so are parenting networks, like Streatham Mums Network with 20,000 followers. They’re an endless source for ideas, free or local goods.
So what started out as a fun way to share street disco tunes, became a thriving hub for sharing, reusing, recycling and upcycling.
A supportive way to build a better community, to bring people together and establish a zero-waste ethic that will last beyond any road map.