“Is there a limit to how much you can put in?” I ask Carl as we stand at the bottom of Monks Lane looking into one of those large walk-in skips.
“No, it’s more first-come-first-served. Each skip is supervised by someone from the skip company who will say what can and can’t go in.”
As if on cue, a resident comes by, “We’ve got an old three-piece. Can I put that in?”
“Oh yeah,” says Carl, “no problem.”
“And can I come and photograph you throwing it away?” I ask.
It’s Environment Week at Breightmet UCAN and for many residents the highlight is ‘skip day’ where seven skips are positioned around the estate for residents to get rid of their unwanted items. They arrive early and once they’re full, that’s it, they’re gone.
We’ve followed Paul back to his house where his partner is waiting in the front garden and the old three piece sits on the drive. “How are you going to move that?” I ask.
Paul points across the road, “My mate’ll help me when he’s up.” It is only just 8am.
“I think it’s great what you do,” says Amanda, once we’ve introduced ourselves. “It’s about £25 to get any rubbish moved and, you know, people on benefits can’t afford that sort of money.”
“I’m glad it’s making a difference,” says Carl. I check on the Council’s website later: it’s actually £29 for up to five items, rising to £116 for up to 20.
“And it makes the streets look cleaner… without people having all their junk in the front gardens.”
Carl starts to tell Amanda about the other events they’ve held, about the litter pick with the schoolchildren, and about the 47 bags of litter collected from just eight local streets, including this one.
“I know,” she says, “I’ve seen the children go by. They were dead happy, buzzing their heads off. They loved it. I think it’s fantastic what you do at that UCAN.”
I’ve been following the UCAN’s Environment Week on Twitter these last few days. The Estate Rangers and Bolton at Home staff have helped with litter picks; there have been grow your own promotions and a gardening event in the UCAN’s back yard.
“They’re really popular,” Carl says as we wander off towards the next skip, “but it’s not just about putting skips out, it’s about behavioural change as well. We do have a problem with some residents hoarding rubbish and it’s about us working with them to make changes.”
Carl stops to talk to a woman he knows who’s just dropped some bin liners off in the nearly-full skip ahead of us.
“We’re using this week as an opportunity to encourage people to go online and report environmental issues,” he says, “so we can tackle the problems.”
“Yeah,” says the woman, making a face.
“Would you report stuff?” I ask.
“Be honest,” says Carl.
“No,” she says, emphatically. “It’s like ratting on people, isn’ it? You don’t want to be a grass, because that’s what they’ll call you.”
I see a man with a wheelbarrow full of rubbish and leave Carl to continue his discussion.
“Which way are you going with that?” I ask.
“Up there,” he nods towards Padbury Way. “It’s my second trip.”
I point out that there is a nearer skip, across the busy road and down Bridson Lane. “Hang on, I stop the traffic for you.”
Stephen tells me he’s also got a mattress and television to get rid of but isn’t quite sure how he’s going to get them to the skip.
“They closed the nearest tip a while back and now they charge for collecting it from you. I’ve been keeping all my rubbish in my spare room… nothing else for it.”
“So today has been helpful?”
“Oh yeah. No doubt about it.”