From two to two hundred members. EASI does it!

Peter Soul's approach to volunteer recruitment has been very successful

Earley is a town of about 33,000 residents, on the borders of Reading but administratively within Wokingham Borough. It has a strange figure-of-eight shape. The town contains around 380 named roads, long and short, and nearly all residential. The Borough & Town Councils (WBC & ETC) each assume some responsibility for litter-picking, but their efforts inevitably fall far short of what’s needed to keep the litter problem under control.

In March 2010, a friend and I (backed by our residents’ association and local environmental group) approached ETC with a plan to form a group of volunteers who would litter-pick their own roads and nearby paths, if the council could assist by providing litter-picking tools, gloves, hi-vis vests and bags. We said we hoped to gather at least 25 names.

The council’s response was encouraging, and so was born Earley Adopt-a-Street Initiative (EASI). Later, WBC took over the supplying of tools and bags (the latter being collected with the weekly refuse), and both councils still give us much encouragement. As for our membership, this is now 225 and still rising! At a rough guess, it will take about 300 to have the whole town covered. As this indicates, some ‘EASI-streets’ are actually groups of roads. But equally, some long roads need to be partitioned between several volunteers.

Already, five more adopt-a-street groups have formed within the borough following our success, and we’ve received enquiries from elsewhere too. So how have we made such progress in recruiting residents to perform what is on the face of it an unrewarding task? In fact, when the idea is put to them, a surprisingly large fraction of people are indeed willing to put some time and effort into keeping their own street (or even a neighbouring one) clear of litter. And many find that not long after they’ve started, the rate at which litter is deposited falls significantly.

Initially we recruited volunteers (and still do) at annual events such as organized litter-picks and the Earley Green Fair, where our stall attracts interested people who can check, on a large map of the town, whether their Street has yet been marked as Adopted. Personal contact and press publicity have also contributed.

But the most successful recruitment method is delivery of targeted leaflets: these are worded as personally as possible, and tweaked to suit each new stretch we want covered (generally worked out to be between 300 and 500m long). We usually put them through ten doors at a time in each road. If there’s no response after a month, we deliver a further ten leaflets, and so on. More than ten would speed up the process, but would increase the chances of getting two volunteers for a street (which might or might not be an advantage). Overall, one person is recruited for about every 25 leaflets delivered.

Both ETC and existing EASI-members give support by printing and delivering the leaflets. We keep a note of the house-numbers already targeted, to assist the planning of further deliveries. WBC has a most useful website map identifying every house in the borough with its street-number.

We maintain a password-protected Excel file of members’ contact details and their allotted EASI-streets. Of course we don’t circulate this information. The email-address column of the file can be pasted straight into the BCC box of an email, for sending out newsletters, which we do every two or three months. A printed version has to be delivered to the one in ten of our people not on email.

We tell members the names of those litter-picking their adjacent roads, but otherwise almost no-one knows who else is in the group. So, to give everyone the chance to meet up, we started an annual summer bring-food-and-share party (with partners invited). This is greatly enjoyed by all who attend. ETC kindly provides a hall for us free of charge.

I suppose Earley Adopt-a-Street Inititive is the ideal Big Society: many people happily doing an effective job for the community on zero funding, just practical support. (It’s appalling that the job needs doing – but that’s another story.) And once we’ve recruited enough volunteer litter-pickers for every road and footpath in the town, we two founders should be able to sit back and let the group run itself. Or will we find that people drop out and need to be replaced? Anyway, looking back, what we had to set up was … EASI!

Peter Soul

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