What a thrill it was for us to win the Allianz Community Art Award at the Allianz Arts & Business NI Awards in January. To have the Whitehead Wombles Juniors recognised in this way was so empowering and has added real impetus to our efforts to keep the shorefront of Whitehead (our beautiful seaside town on the east coast of County Antrim in Northern Ireland) free from rubbish and plastic.
A Little Bit of History
A gentleman who founded the Whitehead Wombles over 15 years ago, Noel McKee, was invited to do a presentation in the local primary school about his litter-picking volunteering efforts. The teacher running the school’s Eco Committee, Mrs Boyle, wanted to show the schoolchildren how they could make a difference. My daughter, Rosa, who was 10-years-old at the time, had just watched the Blue Planet II series and she saw an opportunity to use Noel’s example to mitigate the problems David Attenborough highlighted. Noel provided us with a couple of pickers and we started clearing up along our shore, just the two of us. But Noel had inspired two other pupils and soon we started going out together. The Whitehead Wombles Juniors was born. Through word of mouth we gradually grew to 10 or so families.
The Lough Mess Monster
When I had the opportunity to apply for the Allianz Arts & Business Community Arts Award, I approached a local artist, Steve Diamond, for an idea – he came up with the Lough Mess Monster. The name reflects our beautiful town’s location between Belfast Lough and Larne Lough on the east Antrim coast and the serpentine image conjured up provides three sections we have filled with the litter we have gathered. This sculpture has become a potent symbol of how we have combined environmental awareness, education, volunteering and artistry (both Steve’s and our local blacksmith’s, Aaron Leach). We have used it locally to promote our work and our group now numbers 25 families.
Having this organised regular group combing the seafront of Belfast Loch has paid huge dividends. Not only does it get the plastics out of the sea quickly so they can’t break down into micro particles, it also makes our town more beautiful. And there is the added health and social benefits of getting out into nature with a team of like-minded people no matter what the weather.
We are well supported by our Mid & East Antrim Council, but the funds provided by local companies like Allianz has allowed us to procure hi-vis vest in children’s sizes and bag hoops to improve the experience for our young volunteers. Our hope is that other communities create their own “womble’ groups so that they too can see the real environmental and social benefits that we have.
Author: Marianne McVey
Allianz Staff Member and Whitehead Womble