Neat Streets is exploring new ways to tackle littering behaviour on one of London’s busiest streets. The project is all about experimentation; trialling interventions and sharing learnings. This includes sharing what’s worked well, and what hasn’t worked so well. By being transparent and open we hope the project can provide useful insights and inform other campaigns seeking to tackle this tricky issue. Here are our 4 learnings from two months of activity on Villiers Street:

1) The bigger and brighter, the better

It’s not always easy to get noticed on the second busiest street in London, you’ve got to shout loudly. Working within the council’s guidelines has meant compromising some of our biggest and boldest ideas. The ‘My Street Is Your Street’ gallery in its smart black frames risks blending into the background, whilst some passers by don’t even acknowledge the grateful belch that bellows from the Talking Bin as they power-walk past. It’s a street where subtlety doesn’t work. The more colourful and repeated interventions have been noticed the most. 30% of the public interviewed had noticed the Gumdrops and gum chalking. In the next phase we‘ll be adding more vibrancy and colour, including three eye-catching bins and bright graphics.

2) Keep it simple

Londoners are stereotypically rushed, blazing around with their blinkers on. This caricature doesn’t ring more true than on Villiers Street, which largely serves as a busy thoroughfare of people missioning it from A to B. We’ve learned that any intervention requiring time or leaps of the imagination isn't as effective. One example was the #ChewIsIt display, which many people stuck their gum to as intended. However the text-in competition to guess a famous local character proved to be one step too many for most.

Another example is the Gumdrop on-the-go. Over 8 give-out days we distributed over 5,000 portable gum bins to employees and commuters, which we hope will significantly reduce the amount of gum littered. However, getting people to return these to a recycling point has proved challenging. Clearly the incentive prize of brogue shoes with chewing gum soles wasn’t strong enough!

3) The more the merrier

Significant time and energy went into extensive research and local consultation before the campaign began and the benefits of building grassroots support has been invaluable. Over three months we met with the street cleaning teams, The Connection homeless charity, the parks team, street wardens, traders, residents and numerous local businesses. Building these relationships helped us to understand local issues and galvanise support, which has manifested itself in different ways. Permissions for railing displays from the Parks team, competition prizes from Charing Cross Hotel, and public announcements in the Underground. Photographing 100 people for the ‘My Street Is Your Street’ gallery also enabled local people to feel part of the campaign.

However, keeping local businesses engaged can be challenging. People are busy and an external campaign is not always top of the priority list. The extent to which people want to get and stay involved varies, and as yet we have been unable to get people to commit to being Neat Streets ambassadors for their workplace.

4) Understand the problem and target your message

Our baseline research told us that around a third of people who use Villiers Street litter their waste, which increases to an amazing two thirds when cigarette butts are included. Cigarette litter has been highlighted as a major issue with 89% of smokers leaving their butts out (ahem).  A large proportion of these litter flingers hang out in the evenings, they tend to be younger and are in groups. 

As a response to this, we’ve been working with product design students from Central St Martin’s who have come up with some brilliant ideas to tackle littering. In August we’ll be spending a day with 20 young people who are doing an apprenticeship with the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, organised by Lucozade Ribena Suntory. We’ll be working with them to come up with solutions to the problems faced on Villiers Street. Our aim is to develop interventions aimed at young people, designed by young people.