Matthew Rowe is improving his community - one piece of litter at a time
Being amongst nature has always made Matthew Rowe feel calm and peaceful, and the Middlesbrough teenager has made it his mission to preserve these green spaces for future generations.
On a cold afternoon at the park at Hemlington Lake, he meets We Are Middlesbrough for a chat about his efforts to make Middlesbrough cleaner and greener.
Armed with his litter picker and bin bag ready for a photo, he starts to pick up litter as soon as he arrives.
“Might as well do some while I’m here,” he proclaims, always on the lookout for stray wrappers.
Matthew Rowe picks up litter in the park
The 17-year-old’s passion for picking began three years ago, when he was out walking near where he lives in Acklam.
“I was just sick of seeing litter,” explains Matthew.
“Whenever I was out of the house and saw I piece of litter, I would pick it up and put it in the bin.”
Matthew wanted to make more of an official effort, so he contacted his local councillor, who was able to provide him with free litter-picking equipment.
Not long after Matthew started to tidy up his local area, Mayor Andy Preston was elected and many in Middlesbrough were motivated to take part in a ‘town-wide clean-up’.
Community Champions Middlesbrough was born, a group dedicated to taking pride in their local area.
Matthew was glad to have even more help – he quickly joined the new group and was surprised that it took off and continued to evolve and grow, even after the town-wide clean-up was done.
“I didn’t expect it to carry on, but it did,” continued Matthew.
“As well as picking up litter, we now plant trees and bulbs, install bird boxes, paint street furniture – including the dinosaurs at Teessaurus Park – all sorts really!”
Matthew now litter picks across Middlesbrough every weekend, often bumping into members of the public who congratulate him for his dedication.
“People are always friendly and thank me for doing it, they say it makes a huge difference,” he explains, with a smile on his face.
As well as praise from the public, the green teenager has also received official recognition for his environmental efforts, when he was presented with a Boro Hero award from Mr Preston.
Matthew’s pride in his town is his biggest motivation, and his passion will never wane.
“I think Middlesbrough is great. We get bad press sometimes, but I just want other people to recognise how great our town is too. I want us to thrive.
“I will always have a love for nature and I will always do this, even when I’m 90!”
Middlesbrough Council is fighting litter and taking action to make the town cleaner and greener this month – and residents are encouraged to do their bit too.
The council’s ‘green takeover’ month in April involves a series of Green Action Days in ten different wards across the town, with further events taking place in each of the remaining ten wards in autumn.
Residents of all ages are invited to attend the Green Action Day in their local area and can take part in a community litter pick, plant trees and speak to the council’s Fly Tipping Squad and Neighbourhood Safety Wardens if they have any concerns about anti-social behaviour where they live.
Find out where and how you can get involved, here.
We are words by Alex Backshall
We are pictures by Alex Backshall