Uniting People in the United Kingdom for WCD 2024

Written by
David Parks
April 30, 2024

The Skill Mill – a platform for sustainable involvement

Greetings to the entire World Cleanup Day Global Network from the United Kingdom! My name is David Parks and I am the UK’s Country Leader for the World Cleanup Day (WCD). I am also the Founder and Managing Director of The Skill Mill, an award-winning social enterprise organisation providing employment for young ex–offenders in watercourse and horticulture services.

[David Parks, The Skill Mill & World Cleanup Day UK]

Since 2013 we have been committed to ending the revolving cycle of crime, by undertaking both water- and land-based management, helping to reduce flood risk and improve the local environment. This creates a range of social and environmental benefits by directly involving local people in the delivery of the services.

The reduction of re-offending, increase in community safety, and the rise in employment and education levels of young people are just a few of the benefits and it is from this erstwhile project platform that we have supported the Let’s Do It World movement, especially via WCD.

Social enterprise as a model for change

The Skill Mill’s work has its focus primarily on young people, especially the most disadvantaged, for example ex-offenders who face a difficult time reintegrating into society.

Their biggest barrier tends to be the stigma associated with a criminal record, especially at a young age, so we assist them with finding employment, and working on protecting their local environment. WCD is an extension of that.

We want to encourage *all* young people to think more about the issues that WCD addresses – waste, pollution, and caring for the environment.

[One of The Skill Mill’s team in cleanup action]

We develop educational resources alongside the young people with whom we work, to accompany WCD, in an accessible way that youth can engage freely with. Our approach is to use the team we build to act as positive role models to other young people around them. This is an example of “identity shift” – i.e. we help them move away from seeing themselves as “a problem to society” to being “a benefit to society”.

A living wage, a routine, a purpose – all these things positively impact on self-perception, which adjusts the way they then approach life. And these changes in perception alter behaviours – which positively impact on all the relationships they have around them, from themselves, to their families, to society, and even to the environment.

By using WCD as a working model, we see the behavioural shifts resulting in a tangible reduction in previously harmful behaviours. And our work, just as with WCD’s objectives, unifies many different elements of society to create community cohesion, especially in so-called deprived areas, such as inner cities, but also in rural areas that lack infrastructure.

We know such issues are not limited to the UK, they are replicated the world over – we all face the same problems, and sometimes the solutions are the same.

This is about congruence in messaging between what The Skill Mill does and what WCD seeks to achieve on a global level – the very personification of “identity shift”!

There are opportunities in the Green Economy that should be made available to all – and we promote positive stewardship of Green and Blue spaces nationwide through our network of 11 teams spread over the UK.

“Mind the gap!”

In the UK, The Skill Mill’s teams have been arranging cleanup campaigns since 2017. The biggest thing we have learned is that once areas are cleaned, it becomes easier to keep them clean.

After a while, any new development faces an almost inevitable build-up of mismanaged waste, and this is a phenomenon we see increasing. Our teams will go into such areas to ‘blitz’ a cleaning strategy and then demonstrate positively to the community that it’s possible!

We have seen that, whenever a new development (residential, commercial, whatever) is planned, there is often too little capacity for local authorities to maintain – it often falls to the locals themselves to step in and fill that gaping gap.

[Kids’ Urban Cleanup in Newcastle-upon-Tyne]

What we need as a nation and a society is a long-term strategy to maintain cleanliness – we can highlight the issues as we face them, but the real solution is a more sustainable approach to waste generation in the first place, e.g. reduce plastics, especially single-use, and to redesign packaging, especially in areas with high turnover of fast food or retail.

New platform, new campaign, new ways to engage

In previous years, people would sign up for events on the WCD global website – but we had our own platform running too! That meant we would often not know about some events taking place within the UK. So, our technology partner, Plinth, has built us (pro-bono!) a brand new platform.

All events for the UK will go there, via the link on the WCD global page, meaning we get full visibility of all planned activity in the UK. Very soon, we will be activating our site’s event registration, donation and partnership options, once final tweaking is done. People will be able to support the UK campaign directly, capturing everything about an event, for the first time since we started WCD campaigns.

We will also have every event plotted on a national UK map – so, people wishing to create or join events can ensure that they are visible.

Awareness drives influence

Our aim, therefore, with this new registration platform, and our new informative and educational website for WCD in the UK, is to continue the process of raising awareness of the need for more resources that help society maintain the environment in healthy ways.

The source of the waste problem is where we are placing our focus, to influence the creation of a more sustainable economy, where communities themselves become the solution.

Volunteers have taken it this far – we need to ramp up to “next-level engagement.”

To get there, our key buzzwords in our campaigns include:

Connection, togetherness, solidarity, community, support, partnerships, values-sharing, youth, environment, sustainability, and commitment.

Uniting public and private sectors towards a bold goal

A national corporate partner can customise their national plan by advertising their events internally at every location. By making their events public, they can invite members of the public to join in – alternatively, corporate organisations can arrange ‘private’ events (just as they can do with the global WCD page) to ensure that they attract their employees. This helps them exercise their CSR strategies, to utilise their employee networks effectively.

Corporates will pay for access to this new platform, wherein they can create their own page, and they can input all the data (participation, waste collected, etc.), as well as upload their cleanup events’ media. Sharing this data will greatly facilitate the reporting process after WCD 2024, all contained in one platform.

The above also applies to local authorities, regional and national government departments. For example, we are already working with DEFRA and the Environment Agency through ministerial-level contacts. Giving them access to this platform will make it easier for them to strategise – and having localised partnerships will greatly facilitate the organisation of in-house cleanup campaigns.

Our involvement with politicians is crucial to us achieving the 5% threshold in the UK – we’re targeting 3 million from the adult population within the next 5 years and as many youth as possible too.

Meeting challenges through a call to action

The inclusion of WCD on the UN Calendar has proven to be an effective door-opener for making vital government-level connections. We will, of course, look to engage Dame Barbara Woodward, the Permanent UN Representative to the UN.

One of the many challenges we face include the fact it is an election year in the UK, and that can cast a shadow of doubt regarding future commitments, especially if there is a change in government. This is why it is important for us to speak directly, where possible, with government departments, from the Civil Service’s wider perspective, rather than solely from the incumbent administration’s. 

On the more local level, we have a degree of success with local authorities via the Local Government Association, which puts us in touch with Director-level figures, such as Directors of Environmental Services in city councils. We would like to reach more cities’ Mayors, to stimulate civic-level engagement and we are currently working on the national launch strategy for our platform.

What we have realised is that many people who have collected trash are taking care of their own logistics when disposing of what they collect. However, the strategy towards which we are working is a more coordinated approach with the local authorities to collect from organised pick-up points – much like how Estonia nailed it in 2008 for the first cleanup day.

The secret to unlocking mass participation in the UK is not necessarily persuading governments to legislate for cleanliness – we’re much more likely to achieve our aims via a cooperative strategy of involving communities, government and, critically, private sector support. We need sponsorship, so we can continue our educational approach.

[North London Borough of Barnet, post-cleanup]

When organisations have a responsibility to meet their ESG goals, actions like World Cleanup Day become a mutually beneficial opportunity. Even small amounts of contributions from these organisations can make a massive difference to the outcome.

We will invite organisations to support us through our Donations page when live – or, and this is an exciting alternative, they can commission The Skill Mill to bring our teams into community locations to coordinate and lead the actual cleanup events throughout the year! We realise that every day is World Cleanup Day…

An inspirational message from the UK to the world

Together, we represent an enormous force for good and positive change in the world. 

You, as an individual, might feel like a lone voice at times – just remember though that every one of us is part of a whole movement that supports each other.

[Solo, but not alone!]

Individually, we might not feel that we have much power or impact, just remember that when enough of us speak with the same voice, our volume increases!

The UK has been part of World Cleanup Day from the start – and participation numbers increase each year, with a new record in 2023! The team will soon have a new website for events registration, plus a nationwide campaign to boost numbers towards a target of 3 million by 2029. WCD UK Country Leader, David Parks, talks about how The Skill Mill is driving cross-sector engagement to increase WCD’s impact there.
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