From the fresh flush of litter-pickers on a mission to clean up the UK, to the continued rise of climate awareness and activism, we bring you five people-centred movements that made a positive difference this year

Looking back at the four issues of Positive News magazine published in 2021, we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to inspirational, people-powered movements that made a difference. Here are five of our favourites that we reported on during the year.


1) Litter-pickers taking the rubbish crisis into their own hands

From solo pickers to community cheerleaders, dog walkers to power walkers, the reasons why people pick up litter are as diverse as the junk they hunt.

“I’m a solo picker but I get to spend hours in my favourite place,” writes Claire, from Northampton, on the UK Litterpicking Groups Facebook page. “I feel like a guardian of the galaxy: a small part of it, but it’s mine to love.”

Lockdown helped to create a fresh flush of litter-pickers. Membership of Keep Britain Tidy’s #LitterHeroes Facebook group has doubled during the pandemic, while the organisation also received an unprecedented volume of requests for litter-picking kits. Meanwhile, Steve Green and his partner Monika Hertlová (pictured above) have coordinated more than 300 volunteers – sailors, surfers, swimmers and divers – to help them clear hard-to-reach marine plastic from the ocean in Cornwall. They’ve done so from their boat Annette, which is currently based on the Helford River.

Getting involved with litter-picking can bring a sense of community pride, and new friends. Illustration: Spencer Wilson

Steve Green is pirate-in-chief of Clean Ocean Sailing (COS), a group of sailors, surfers, swimmers and divers, who are united in their love of the ocean, and sickened by the amount of rubbish in it. The pirates’ bounty is melted down to make sea kayaks, which are then used to collect more rubbish.

“There are definitely a lot more people litter-picking now,” says Keep Britain Tidy’s chief executive Allison Ogden-Newton. “We’ve all spent a lot more time in our neighbourhoods over the past year and a half: seeing the same streets and spaces every day and noticing what’s around us.”

Clearing rubbish reminds people that it is possible to make a difference

It’s admirable, but does it make any difference? There is evidence to suggest it does. To begin with, every piece removed is one less hazard for the wildlife that comes across it, or the people who encounter it. More powerful is the longer-term educational impact. And Ogden-Newton notes that many say getting involved has brought a sense of belonging and community pride, and new friends.

“Huge global problems can feel overwhelming, but clearing rubbish is very tangible and satisfying,” she reflects. “You can literally step back and see that you’ve removed so many bags. It reminds people that it is possible to make a difference.”

Read the full feature here, which was first published as the cover story of the Jul-Sep 2021 issue of Positive News magazine.

Subscribe now to get our uplifting, beautifully designed and certified carbon neutral magazine delivered to your door throughout 2022.

2) Communities protecting the future of food

“You can feed a whole city from the seeds of one plant”, says Stroud Community Seed Bank seed guardian Annie Page, who, at the time of writing was expecting a bumper crop of vivid red tomatoes and sickle-shaped runner beans. Page is talking about open-pollinated seeds, which are richly diverse, well adapted to local conditions and therefore more resistant to climate change.

As lockdowns have forced many of us to spend much more time in our homes, gardens and on our allotment plots, evidence suggests that there are more hands in the soil now than there have been for years. And those in the seed game are excited about the shift they see. 

“Last year was busier than I have ever known it in 20 years,” says Kate McEvoy of Real Seeds, a seed supplier based in Wales that specialises in organic seed for the home market.

Helene Schulze, co-director of the London Freedom Seed Bank. Image: Sam Bush

These green shoots of a grow-your-own revival being witnessed around the world may signal a timely reversal in fortunes for plant crops, which the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates to have declined in genetic diversity by 75 per cent since 1900.

“What we have to do to combat the very narrow genetic basis to our seed is to get as many people as possible growing as wide a diversity of seeds as possible,” says McEvoy.

The London Freedom Seed Bank is one of hundreds of local initiatives to concentrate efforts on growing local varieties, in order to save the seed and redistribute it in the community.

You can feed a whole city from the seeds of one plant

“If you control seeds – one of the most crucial inputs to producing food – you control the food system from the real beginning,” says Schulze.

After the year (and then some) we have all faced, Schulze reflects, now more than ever, hope is to be found at the end of a garden fork. “Food is about community. Food is about people. It’s about how we connect to each other and how we nourish and nurture each other. Feeling a part of that is really important from an emotional standpoint, especially when we’ve faced real isolation over the past year.”

Read the full feature here, which was first published as the cover story of the Apr-Jun 2021 issue of Positive News magazine.

Subscribe now to get our uplifting, beautifully designed, certified carbon neutral magazine delivered to your door throughout 2022.

3) The inspiring projects that are teaching people how to cook

Knowing how to cook opens up a world of opportunity, from improved nutrition to fresh community. This autumn, we lifted the lid on a host of inspiring schemes that are giving people a place at the table. One was Chilli Con Carner, the cookery school project by rapper Loyle Carner and Mikey Krzyzanowski.

Carner likes mixing it up. His music blends sparse jazz beats with south London grit, treacle-thick basslines and layers of warm, soulful melody. His stage moniker is a playful take on his real name, Ben Coyle-Larner. And when he’s not writing rhymes or performing, he finds solace and mindfulness in his kitchen, or among the pages of a Yotam Ottolenghi cookery book.

He also uses his kitchen exploits as a salve for his lifelong neurodiversity – the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) that diverted his concentration and led him into fights and mischief as a child.

Loyle Carner and Miley Krzyzanowski, founders of Chilli Con Carner. Image: Vicky Grout

Coyle-Larner is spreading the word on the therapeutic benefits of cooking, after teaming up with social enterprise the Goma Collective. Their London-based Chilli Con Carner summer school has been teaching cookery to kids with ADHD for the past five years, giving teens accustomed to a diet of failure and anxiety their first taste of sweet success.

“They get factual praise – they’re tasting the food and they know it’s good,” says Goma’s Mikey Krzyzanowski. “We tell them they’ve done something great and they can taste for themselves that we really mean it. It undoes loads of the pain and negative wiring that some of their schooling and even the people around them have been subjecting them to for a long time.”

Over the summer break, they take around a dozen 14- to 16-year-olds and teach them how to make everything from dusty folds of fresh pasta to intricate California sushi rolls.

Cooking undoes loads of the pain and negative wiring that some people have been subjecting them to

Other projects we featured included Full Time Meals, in which Tom Kerridge’s chef smarts combine with Marcus Rashford’s star power to tasty effect. ‘No child should ever go to bed hungry’, goes its tagline.

At Chefs in Schools, restaurant chefs are helping to transform school meals. Whether teaching school caterers, or the children themselves, they’re serving up ideas on making food fresh, nutritious – and fun.

We also visited Made in Hackney, which flung open its doors in 2012 as the UK’s first fully vegan cookery school. Founder and director Sarah Bentley describes the ‘beautiful connections’ that happens when plant-based cuisine, culture and conversation collide. “All manner of magic”, she says.

Read the full feature about Chilli Con Carner here, which was first published as the cover story of the Oct-Dec 2021 issue of Positive News magazine.

Subscribe now to get our uplifting, beautifully designed and certified carbon neutral magazine delivered to your door throughout 2022.

4) The growth of climate awareness

From the craftivists who stitched canaries to send to politicians ahead of COP26, to the rise of ‘climate cafes’, more people than ever are becoming aware of the realities of the climate crisis – and getting involved in climate activism.

“It’s about helping raise awareness of the issue, but also starting conversations and looking for positive action,” says Dr Steven Forrest, a lecturer at the University of Hull’s Energy and Environment Institute, which jointly runs a climate cafe with York city council.

Like other climate cafes, which are popping up regularly across the UK and internationally, the ones held in Hull and York, two cities at risk of flooding, provide “coffee, cake and quiche”, and a forum to discuss the impact of the climate crisis.

Ahead of COP26, craftivists posted homemade canaries to politicians. Image: Liz Seabrook

But it wasn’t just the reassuring power of discussion that saw an uptick this year. Pavement-pounding activism and more subtle forms of protest, such as craftivism saw a surge too, particularly in the lead up to COP26.

More than 70 craftivist groups from across the UK joined forces to stitch and sew canaries, which they sent to MPs ahead of the summit. “These beautiful, small and sensitive birds fly to where there is clean air,” said Sarah Corbett, founder of Craftivist Collective, which organised the ‘sew-in’. “We hope our sensitive and kind craftivists can encourage the UK government to move in the direction of creating a cleaner and greener world.”

These beautiful, small and sensitive birds fly to where there is clean air

Meanwhile, a teenager organised a protest cycle from Devon to Glasgow to raise awareness about the high cost of low-carbon travel, and a group of Extinction Rebellion hikers completed a 500 mile-stomp from London to the Scottish city. Organised by the female-run faith group Camino to COP26, the group bedded down in churches and village halls along the way, and even took part in an impromptu Samba performance beneath Spaghetti Junction in Birmingham.

Wildlife murals depicting species under threat started appearing on buildings across the UK as part of a climate campaign led by environmental group UK Youth for Nature, and climate scientists organised a kickabout. Dubbed the Game of History, and held on 7 November in Glasgow, the idea was to raise awareness about the growing number of children who regularly experience eco-anxiety.

Read our full roundup of inspiring people-powered projects that took place ahead of COP26.

For uplifting, offline reading throughout 2022, subscribe to Positive News now and you can enjoy all the essential stories of progress delivered to your door.

5) The community groups rallying to support refugees

After the crisis in Afghanistan, many people in the UK were quick to offer donations, with charities reporting an influx of clothes, toiletries and other necessities. We reported on the ways people could lend a hand, from providing a spare room to volunteering. Even small acts such as showing kindness or buying a Christmas bauble hand-painted by a refugee can help those fleeing from difficult circumstances. 

Elsewhere, we featured a story on the project that links refugee women with preloved clothes. Stuck at home during lockdown, Sol Escobar was frustrated that she could no longer help refugees. Until March 2020, she had been volunteering during weekends at the Calais refugee camp, as well as supporting resettled families in Cambridge, where she lives.

Then Escobar connected on Instagram with Ilda (not her real name), a young woman in Cardiff unable to work because of her asylum seeker status. They happened to share a dress size, so Escobar began sending Ilda packages of her own clothes.

How to help refugees

Give Your Best links refugee women with preloved clothes. Image: Zsuzsanna Palami

But Ilda was living in Home Office accommodation with eight other asylum seeker women, who were also unable to find affordable clothes while charity shops were shut. So, Escobar asked friends of different sizes to send her photos of clothes they no longer wore, which she uploaded on Instagram for the women to choose from.

“The women really enjoyed it – they said it was like a little shopping experience,” Escobar said. This spark of an idea became Give Your Best in October 2020, and more than 5,000 items have since been gifted.

In another of our stories, we brought you news of the book that defines ‘refugee’ in 1,000 ways. A stranger with a story to tell and gifts to share, a well-spiced dish that can impress the world, a flying bird looking for a cosy branch to sit on in the sunlight. These are just some of the personal definitions of the word, collated in a thought-provoking dictionary that marks the 70th anniversary of the United Nations refugee convention.

The above are excerpts from stories published in Positive News magazine in 2021. For uplifting, offline reading, subscribe now to our beautifully designed and certified carbon neutral magazine. You’ll enjoy all the essential stories of progress delivered to your door throughout 2022. 

Main article image: The ‘plastic-hunting pirates’ of Cornwall, Steve Green and his partner Monika Hertlová. Image: Alexander Turner

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