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Dublin: 16 °C Thursday 23 May, 2019

'Picking up litter on Christmas Day': What it takes to be named Ireland's Tidiest Town three times

Westport’s SuperValu TidyTowns chairman Liam Campion says it’s a massive group effort.

A young volunteer at work in Westport.
A young volunteer at work in Westport.
Image: Facebook/Westport TidyTowns

“I REMEMBER IN 2001, coming down on the bus after the results ceremony, Bridie was already working out the rosters for the next clean-up.”

Sitting on the shores of Clew Bay in Co Mayo, near the foot of Croagh Patrick, the harbour town of Westport is one of the busiest tourist destinations in the west – and it’s also been named Ireland’s Tidiest Town three times.

The SuperValu TidyTowns competition is an integral part of Westport’s identity, and the town is the only entrant to have had a repeat win in the last twenty years.

It’ll be ten years this year since the last win, but the residents don’t seem too bothered by that fact.

“Yes, we’d like to win the overall prize again, but really we want our town to be perfect all the time,” says Liam Campion, a Westport resident, manager of the local SuperValu and this year’s committee chairman.

We had our first win in 2001, and we have gained points every year since. We’re setting the standard, pushing the standard up. We’re not making things easy for anyone.

25348414_819682958209853_1021450917327451997_n One of the regular group clean-ups in action. Source: Facebook/Westport TidyTowns

Rain or shine (but mainly rain)

Every member of Westport’s SuperValu TidyTowns committee agrees on one key fact: the work is never really done.

“We have 15 people on the committee, plus seven Junior TidyTowns members and around 150 volunteers from around the town,” says Liam.

“It really does happen 365 days a year and everyone pitches in. We have a meeting each month and even in winter there are weekly cleanups on Sundays for three hours.

Not when it’s raining though, surely? “It’s always raining. The rain is no excuse! We don’t stop for the weather.”

Last year, Westport resident Pat Scahill was recognised by the national SuperValu TidyTowns judges with a Community Hero Award for his ongoing commitment to the cause. He’s often doing volunteer work for up to five hours a day, according to the Mayo News.

Another volunteer, Pat Fahy, “was out cleaning up litter on Christmas Day last year,” says Liam.

“He spotted some rubbish and decided to head out.”

RECRUIT Ready for a clean-up in Westport. Source: Westport TidyTowns

Ireland’s first plastic straw-free town

As well as keeping the place looking spick and span year round, the SuperValu TidyTowns crew works to implement new long-term development projects in the town too.

There’s the local skate park, partly funded by competition prize money. And, more recently, there’s the pledge to become Ireland’s first plastic straw-free town, a move which made headlines when it was announced last month.

“In our March committee meeting we were discussing the whole plastic situation,” says Liam.

“One of our junior Transition Year members mentioned that all the pubs use plastic straws, and said it would be great to see if we could get them to switch to biodegradable. We have a good relationship with pub owners, so I put it to the Westport Vintners, and they were on board. We’re kicking off on June 1st.”

Biodegradeable Straws Westport TidyTowns launching the biodegradable straw campaign with members of Westport Vintners. Source: Frank Dolan

Re-starting Westport’s winning streak

The SuperValu TidyTowns judges’ reports are notoriously detailed, with two sets of judges visiting on separate days and noting everything from the presence of litter and graffiti to a town’s colour scheme, floral displays and its care for local wildlife.

Last year Westport was just a single point from the top place, so does Liam think the town is in with a chance this year?

“It won’t be for lack of not trying,” he says.

If there’s rubbish spotted in one area by a committee member, the phones will be hopping. No-one gets any money for it, it’s just the satisfaction. People come up with new ideas all the time, and everyone pushes everyone else a little bit.

SON623_0231 Members of Westport TidyTowns at the local skate park, a project led by the committee. Source: Shane O'Neill Photography

To boost volunteer numbers, and to foster community involvement, the SuperValu TidyTowns committee aims to get a different group on board for each weekly clean-up in the summer months.

“Last Tuesday night, St Ann’s Boxing Club came out with us, so we had 12 strong young people doing far more work than we could ever do by ourselves. Other weeks we might have pub staff, the Scouts group, hotel staff or anything like that.”

But for Liam, as for many of those involved, the weekly cleanups and monthly meetings are as much a social outlet as a community duty.

“Don’t think because we’re out pulling weeds that we’re not having a bit of craic,” he says.

“And driving through town on a Sunday evening, looking around, it’s all worth it.”

Regardless of what the judges say this year, Liam’s proud of the work achieved during his first year as chairperson.

“We’re winning all the time,” he says.

You never know when the judges come, we usually expect the first round in June, but we’d like to think we’ll take the judges any day. There’s no stopping us.

Source: YouTube

It’s time to play your part! The closing date for SuperValu TidyTowns entries is May 23rd, so there’s only a couple of weeks left. Get your town ready by lending your skills or taking part in a clean-up. Find more information on how to get involved with your local SuperValu TidyTowns committee here.

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