Cleaning up

A post by Faculty Librarian Ben Taylorson

I’m not really one for new year’s resolutions, but one thing I wanted to make sure I did in 2023 was make full use of the volunteering time that Durham University generously provides for staff. I have done a bit of volunteering through work before, at a foodbank and preparing Christmas treats for children. But with an entitlement of 35 hours of volunteering time to use, I set about finding something that I could do across the course of the whole year, via the Staff Volunteering Newsletter.

I’m quite an outdoorsy type, so I settled on litter picking/beach cleaning. The university work closely with SeaScapes to improve the state of our beaches and ultimately protect the fragile marine environment, and run monthly beach cleans (starting in April) on 1st Wednesday of every month 10 – 12pm.

I started with the first session in April, which was at Seaham on the County Durham coast.  A small group of use was met by a representative from SeaScapes and from Staff Volunteering, who gave us the equipment we needed and provided a health and safety briefing (don’t use your hands, don’t wade out into the sea, don’t go into the caves that people have a tendency to use as a toilet – all sound advice!)

Armed with my litter picker and my bag-on-a-hoop, I was then free to roam and pick and make a difference for a couple of hours, collecting a full bag of rubbish.

A litter-picker, hoop and bag. These are actually my own ‘personal’ ones! I’ve been inspired to do a bit of litter picking around my own neighbourhood too.

I returned in May to do the same again. This time, in addition to the rudimentary rubbish you might expect, I found a coconut (how exotic), a corner-flag from a football pitch and a brick. Actually, quite a fun brick. I took the brick home. I did not take the coconut home. Or the corner flag.


I have to say, the beaches pre-litter picks were a lot cleaner than I’d imagined. This – combined with the fact that I live in Teesside, making a trip to Seaham quite a lengthy one – led me to wonder if I could apply my efforts elsewhere…

In addition to being the Faculty Librarian for Durham University Business School, I also work with the International Study Centre at Queen’s Campus, Stockton-On-Tees. During one of my regular lunchtime stroll to the Tees Barrage (where there are seals!) I noted that some areas nearby could benefit from a bit of attention from a man with a litter picker and a bag-on-a-hoop. So, from June onwards I’ll spend 2 hours on the first Wednesday of every month by the banks of the Tees on the hunt for cans, bottles, crisps packets, sweet wrappers and all the other stuff you’d expect. As well as coconuts, corner flags and interesting bricks, obviously…

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