This week we spoke to Claire Moodie, Co-Founder and CEO at Plastic Free North Devon. In the few short years that the charity has been active Claire and her team have rallied invaluable change and action amongst their local community and further afield.
Read on to find out about their campaigns and plans…
Hi Claire, thanks for chatting to us! We are really interested in how everything’s going at Plastic Free North Devon. Let’s start at the beginning. When and how did you become a charity?
We set up as a community group in 2017 off the back of Blue Planet 2 and when a few super stars in our community aligned. A local teacher, Desiree Young, had just set up a little facebook group to share plastic free tips, after being inspired by her sister who had set up ‘Plastic free Guernsey’. Myself and James Szymankiewicz had been long standing reps for Surfers Against Sewage and had been handed their brand new ‘plastic free communities’ toolkit and were on a mission to roll it out in North Devon. We teamed up with Des and Jasmine Bennett from the Pickwell Foundation who were also super passionate about using their role to kickstart this movement. Our little group was formed!
It didn’t take long for us to meet the steps of the SAS framework in some of our communities and more people flocked to offer help and ideas to build on our efforts. We were balled over by passion and energy that came at us and we saw a real opportunity to drive forward with our own agenda and started seeking direct funding to do so. By early 2019 we had succeeded in becoming our own charity driven directly by the needs of our local community.
Were you affected by the pandemic? Did you innovate and launch any campaigns off the back of lockdown?
Yes. Like everyone it was a tough and long year for us as a charity with some touch and go moments but we made it through by adapting and trying to support our community as much as we could.
One of the things we did was quickly start a #looklocal campaign. Every day for about 2 and a half months we profiled a different local business and their services. The campaign called on people to use these unprecedented times to look up and around at what we are lucky enough to have right on our doorstep. It was really well received and we now have a comprehensive list of local producers and services on our website for people to reference.
After witnessing the rise in rubbish on our streets, parks and beaches when lockdown was lifted over the summer we launched our ‘Don’t even think about it’ poster and information campaign which we piloted within Braunton Tesco. The idea behind this campaign was two pronged: think about the life cycle and quality of any items you purchase, such as inflatables, BBQs or bodyboards and food purchased for picnics, and make sure they are not irresponsibly left in the environment.
We also led the pulling together of the ‘Norther Devon visualisation’ survey with local district councils and partners. This revealed fascinating information about how the pandemic has changed some people’s lifestyles and their views on issues like the environment and their quality of life. The information collected has been used to bolster and support projects going forward.
Overall, people wanted a peaceful, sustainable community where they have more time to do the things they love in a new calmer, safer, greener, kinder and healthier environment – not too much to ask!
In January this year, fresh into 2021, we launched our online ‘cleanse and clean’ campaign which called on the community to get out in nature (jump in the ocean, get out on your bike, go for a run) and then finish your activity by giving back, for example, by picking up some rubbish. We knew from our survey that people were appreciating wildlife more and wanted to spend more of their free time outside. We also knew that being outdoors hugely benefits our mental health. With over 85% of survey respondents stating that they were interested in supporting wildlife and the environment, this was a perfect way to get stuck in.
We also launched our ‘Protect our Playground’ initiative last summer which aimed to reduce plastic pollution on our beaches by reducing demand for plastic beach toys. The initial stage was all about reducing the increasing amount of cheap polystyrene boards we find on our beaches during the height of summer. We launched a pilot hire project at Saunton Surf Hire to help raise awareness, provide alternatives to EPS boards and help generate some income for charity.
What campaigns have you got lined up for the summer months in North Devon? Obviously the influx of visitors can often lead to more litter…
Yes, unfortunately the influx of over 6 million visitors every year certainly leads to more issues and we have been trying to combat some of these through our evolving visitors campaign, which is now in its third year. We’ve created all sorts of resources for accommodation providers and visitors to use which encourage guests to ‘protect our playground’ whilst they are here. We point out that they are entering a UNESCO Biosphere area and the North Devon area of outstanding beauty and give visitors simple tips on how they can reduce their environmental footprint whilst they are here.
We are also building on our already successful virtual reality ocean explorer outreach! This involves developing our own 360 video footage of some of the amazing things on our doorstep to improve understanding, inspire people to protect what’s here and seek to learn more. Think diving with seals on Lundy and exploring rocky shores! We also hope to take some local teenagers from low-income/vulnerable backgrounds to snorkel and explore the island for themselves, volunteer with us during our summer outreach and share their experience with their peers – I’m very very excited about this!
Our #donteventhinkaboutit campaign is expanding to include all Tesco stores across North Devon and we are working with NDC to roll out some additional messaging that will be placed on all public litter bins across our region. Our wooden bodyboard hire is also growing to include more hire locations and we are encouraging holiday home owners as part of our visitor campaign to purchase them for their guests so they don’t have to buy one.
We will hopefully get our Water Bar out to a few sporting and community events and be running our usual community cleans too.
Tell us about the wooden bodyboards! We are also really interested to know more about your campaign to ban polystyrene bodyboards nationwide.
The best thing about our wooden belly-boards is the messaging and the collaborative lobbying it has led too. Not only did we want to see better alternatives on offer but we wanted to see the cheap single-use bodyboards gone from our shops and beaches. We started by calling on all the local parishes and district councillors to support a ban. Motions were passed, letters have been written to supermarkets (Tesco will not be selling them in North Devon) and shops in towns and villages have agreed to stop selling them. Westward Ho! was the 1st place to announce a ban with Saunton following suit. We are working our way around the coast, so watch this space. And we aren’t stopping there! Our UK government petition to get the sale of them banned has increasing cross-party support and over 5000 signatures so far and we hope to get this issue discussed in parliament. Please sign if you haven’t done so already: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/574016. If you want to do a similar thing in your own area we have a toolkit to get you started. Just ask.
As we settle into the ‘new normal’, is there anything you’d personally encourage others to do differently this year?
Be mindful, connect with the things that you buy and take responsibility in understanding how food turns up on your plate, clothes end up in your wardrobe and how much waste you create.
Choose to actively consider and be conscious of your impact on the planet and take steps to reduce it where you can. We are crew, not passengers, on this planet and we are all environmentalists – some of us are better and more equipped than others, and the playing field is by no stretch level, but we are all on a journey. Don’t get overwhelmed by what you can’t do and focus on what you can do. Look after your brain and body, get outside as much as you can and find like-minded people to share it with.
Can you tell us more about the ‘Cleanse and Clean’ campaign? It sounds a little bit like our mindfulness initiative, #2minutesofpositivity.
Yes it is exactly that. Your #2minutebeachclean combined with #2minutesofpositivity seems like a good way to sum it up. It was originally supposed to be a series of beach cleans across the region over the month of January, but the pandemic forced us into only being able to focus on the individual element. Uptake from adults was quite slow (not everyone likes sharing their efforts on social media) but we introduced a competition/prize element for the kids and got all the local schools involved. We had over 200 entries in just over a month, clearing a ton and half of rubbish from our environment. We had the most amazing little stories and mini bios from kids telling us why they were doing it. It really lifted us up and gave us some inspiration and energy to push through the last of the serious lockdowns (fingers crossed) which we are incredibly grateful for.
What small thing do you do each day to put a smile on your face? #2minutesofpositivity
GET OUTSIDE, listen to the birds, and have some fun (preferably surfing or swimming) but if I can’t do that a skate around my local carpark will do (yes I’ve turned into an embarrassing skating middle aged mum – I don’t care!). Nothing connects me more with myself and the planet than being in the sea. It gives me the space to breathe and clears my brain but most of all it connects me with our precious mother earth and all that she gives and reminds me that she needs ALL of us to speak up and act in her interest.
To find out more about Plastic Free North Devon click here to visit their website.