Autumn is for ambling and, for the Widemouth Task Force, ambling involves cleaning their local beach, looking out for the wildlife and appreciating the place they get to call home. With the rugged Cornish coast as our backdrop, we speak to Ado, the founder of the beach cleaning initiative in North Cornwall. Joined by ten of his most loyal volunteers, we chat to the Task Force about surfing, the great outdoors, and the tangible sense of community in the bay.
Back row: Little Jack (12), Alfie (13), Zeb (14), Big Jack (16).
Front row: Rachel, Ado, Harry, Verity, Issac, Richard, Ben.
Ado: It all started in 2011. I used to comb the beaches and get driftwood and make things out of it. I was moving plastic out of the way to get to the driftwood and I suddenly thought, ‘what am I doing?’. So, I started picking up the plastic instead. Then I got some mates together after it had been particularly stormy and we filled 30 bin bags with rubbish, just on this beach. From that, I started the Facebook group and started bi-weekly meetups. From there, we’ve grown to 4000 members online. I could call an emergency clean tomorrow, and I could easily have 75-100 volunteers here. I’m well-supported.
Ado: In the early years, we had to organise cleans. We’d meet up, take a walk across the beach and pick up any litter we found. But now? We only meet up a few times a year. Not because we’ve gotten lazy, but because we don’t need to ‘meet up’ to encourage people to clean. We all just do it now, every day. Nobody who walks their dog or walks across the beach ignores litter. Like today, we’re looking for rubbish but it’s near on impossible. Now, we only need to organise cleans after big storms, which bring a lot onto the beach.
Verity: Like most of us here, I knew Ado through surfing, so we got involved from the offset. It was a great way to educate the kids. My two kids are here today (Alfie and Jack). It taught them about beach life, keeping it clean, animal welfare. It’s engrained in them now, and they take it wherever they go. If they see litter, they pick it up.
Ben: Living next door to Ado, I don’t think we had a choice to be honest. But, when we moved back to the area, it was also the most obvious way to embed ourselves in the local community, to get to know everyone. I’m a vicar, so I’ve lived in many communities, many vicarages. But I’ve never met a community like this one. I think that’s down to the Task Force.
Richard: We’ve surfed in our family for a long time. Beach cleaning sort of comes with the territory. We’re in the sea all the time, so you just do your bit when you’re back on the land as well.
Ado: We all surf. The two go hand in hand. The biggest waves bring the biggest amounts of rubbish. So we clean when the tide is out and then, when the tide comes back in, that’s our surfing time.
Rachel: It’s certainly a way of getting people together. And doing something good in the process. At Christmas, we’ll clean and then share mulled wine and mince pies. Today we’ll probably finish with cake and beer. We’re not trying to make something happen, it’s more organic than that. We’re doing it because we can, and because we live here. We just want to make our area look nice and be nice.
Ado: I’ve since become a British Diver’s marine life medic. So I rescue seals and I’m often part of dolphin and whale rescues as well. So I see every piece of rubbish as a potential killer. It’s also a pride-of-place thing. I live here, I want it to look nice.
Richard: Widemouth expands in the summer with people on holidays, and that’s only growing. But there remains this core group of people that are invested in the area, keen to look after it. It’s that sense of community for me.
Issac: It’s just a beautiful area. I love it. And there’s no better way to show your appreciation than to take care of it.
Harry: It’s great to be able to look around you and just think, ‘this is beautiful’. The number of times I sit in a Zoom meeting, feeling exasperated, but then I walk out along the cliffs and think, ‘it’s not too bad really, is it?
Verity: Sometimes it’s just nice because it gives you something to do. At the weekends, if the kids are bored and there’s no surf, my family will just come and clean the beach. We’ll go for a walk, spend time together and clean the beach in the process.
Little Jack: (And sometimes we find cool stuff too).
Ben: There’s this real sense of connection through walking. Every day, me, my wife and our son, Zeb, do a loop of the bay. We do this circuit, we see our neighbours, we say hi and we pick up rubbish. You see both the same people and different people each day. And the walks around here are always different. While the path may be the same, the tide and the coast is ever-changing, so you see something new every time.