Five people-powered movements that made a difference in 2021

We present five people-centered movements that made this year a positive one. These include litter-pickers returning to the UK on a mission to clean it up, and climate activism rising.

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 favorite stories from the year.


1) Litter-pickers take control of the rubbish crisis

The reasons people pick-up litter vary from solo pickers to community cheerleaders, dog walker to power walkers.

“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 was instrumental in generating a new wave 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.

Volunteering to pick up litter can help build community pride and make new friends. Illustration by Spencer Wilson

Steve Green is the pirate in chief of Clean Ocean Sailing, a group that includes divers, swimmers, surfers, and sailors. They are united by their love for the ocean and sickened at the amount of rubbish it contains. 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 us that we can make a difference.

It’s admirable, but does it make any difference? There is evidence to support this. Every piece that is removed is one less threat to wildlife or people who come across it. The longer-term impact on education is far more important. Ogden Newton points out that many feel that being involved has given them a sense belonging, community pride, as well as 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.”

You can read the entire feature here. It was originally published as the cover story in the Jul-Sep 2021 issue Positive News magazine.

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2) Food security is a community concern

“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 referring to open-pollinated seeds. These are more resilient to climate change because they are more diverse, adaptable to local conditions, and more resilient to drought.

Many of us have had to spend more time in our gardens, homes, and allotment plots because of lockdowns. This suggests that there are more people working in the soil than ever before. 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 is co-director of London Freedom Seed Bank. 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, one of hundreds of local initiatives, focuses efforts on growing local varieties in order to save and redistribute the seed in the community.

One plant can provide enough food for a whole community

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

Schulze believes that despite all the challenges we have faced over the past year, there is still hope at the end of every 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.”

The full feature can be found here. It was originally published as the cover story in the April-Jun 2021 issue Positive News magazine.

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3) The inspiring cooking projects that inspire people

Cooking opens up a whole new world of possibilities, from better nutrition to new communities. We opened the doors to a variety of inspiring programs that give people a seat at the table this autumn. Chilli Con Carner was the cookery school project of rapper Loyle Carner. Mikey Krzyzanowski also created it.

Carner enjoys mixing it up. His music mixes sparse jazz beats, south London grit and treacle-thick basslines with layers of warm, melodic melody. Ben CoyleLarner, his stage moniker, is a playful play on his real identity. 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.

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

After partnering with social enterprise The Goma Collective, Coyle-Larner has spread the word about the therapeutic benefits of cooking. Their Chilli Con Carner summer school in London has been teaching ADHD children cookery for five years. It gives teens who are used to anxiety and failure their first taste of sweetness.

“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.”

They take about a dozen 14-16-year-olds on summer break and teach them how they make everything, from simple pasta rolls to complex California sushi rolls.

Cooking can undo a lot of the pain and negativity that some people have been enduring.

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.

Chefs in Schools is a group of school chefs who help 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.

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4) Climate awareness is growing

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.

Craftivists sent homemade canaries to politicians ahead of COP26. Image: Liz Seabrook

But it wasn’t just the reassuring power of discussion that saw an uptick this year. In particular, the run up to COP26 saw a rise in protests such as pavement-pounding and craftivism.

More than 70 craftivists groups from the UK came together to make and send canaries to MPs in advance of the summit. “These beautiful, small, and sensitive birds fly to areas where clean air is available.,” 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

A teenager organized a protest ride from Devon to Glasgow to raise awareness of the high cost of low carbon travel. Meanwhile, Extinction Rebellion hikers made a 500-mile trek from London to the Scottish capital. Camino, a female-run faith organization, organized the group. They slept in local churches and villages along the route and even performed an impromptu Samba show beneath Spaghetti Junction, 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. The Game of History, which was held in Glasgow on 7/11/11, raised awareness about eco-anxiety and the growing number of children suffering from it.

Check out our complete roundup of inspiring people-powered initiatives that took place before COP26.

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5) Community groups that rally to support refugees

Many people in the UK offered donations after the Afghanistan crisis. Charities reported an influx in 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. 

We also featured a story about the project that connects refugee women with preloved clothing. Sol Escobar, who was locked up at home during lockdown felt frustrated that she couldn’t help refugees. She had been volunteering at Calais refugee camp on weekends until March 2020 and also supporting resettled families in Cambridge where she lives.

Escobar then connected via Instagram with Ilda (not her true name), a young woman from Cardiff who was unable to work due to her asylum seeker status. Escobar started sending Ilda clothes she had made herself, as they shared a similar dress size.

How to help refugees

Donate Your Best to refugee women in need of preloved clothing. Image: Zsuzsanna Palami

Ilda lived in Home Office accommodation alongside eight other asylum-seeker women. These women were also unable or unwilling to pay for clothes, while charity shops were closed. Escobar asked her friends of different sizes to send photos of clothing they no longer wore to her, which she uploaded to Instagram for the women to select from.

“The women really enjoyed it – they said it was like a little shopping experience,” Escobar said. This spark of an idea was the basis for Give Your Best, which launched in October 2020. More than 5,000 items have been gifted since then.

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 share and gifts to give, a well-spiced meal that can impress the whole world, or a flying bird looking to find a comfortable branch to rest on in the sun. These are just a few of the personal definitions of this word, which were compiled in a thought-provoking dictionary to mark the 70th anniversary United Nations refugee convention.

These are excerpts of stories published in Positive News magazine 2021. Subscribe to our beautiful, certified carbon neutral magazine for uplifting offline reading. 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