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Volunteer Alastair


Litter picking at Bulls Bridge - me on the left with my bike!  some bags of rubbish we collected to be collected by barges  interview for TV about me gardening  me being interviewed about my gardening for TV

A Positive Hillingdon Story

Covid has obviously affected millions of people in many different ways - unfortunately mainly negative. Lockdown was terrible for all those people - mentally, emotionally, physically, and financially.  I am no different - but I had to try and find a way of trying to put some sort of positive view on my own experiences of Covid 19.

First of all, a little about us, my wife and I are in our mid 60s. I’ve had 6 heart attacks spanning the last 20 years. Just like many others, we struggle to pay bills and put food on the table.  My wife works part time in a nursery in West Drayton. and I taught myself to use Photoshop and  Illustrator in order to design and sell tshirts, mugs and other custom items online. We don't make big money but with careful budgeting, we get by - just.

Last year, I turned my hand to a bit of gardening. I found it very relaxing, although hard work at the beginning. The rewards later in the year made it all worthwhile - and although we hadn’t planted lots, we found there was nothing better in the late summer, than sitting in the garden eating the veggies we had grown ourselves.  Because of that experience, when it was obvious at the start of 2020 things were going to be difficult, we planted lots more. It was wonderful to see everything start to come to life. We even had a television channel come along to do an interview about growing fruit and veggies during the lockdown. They turned up with a cameraman and filmed it all. Terrific experience.

During normal times, I don't get out much. My two dogs hate not seeing my wife or myself and I will not leave them at home on their own. When lockdown started, my wife was furloughed which meant we were both at home and I could get out a little more. Because of my heart problems, I can't really walk far so decided to take some action to sort this. I asked around on Facebook, if anyone had a working bicycle that I could use. A very kind person offered to help me find one, and then turned up on my doorstep with a bike one day in May. I was over the moon. I hadn’t cycled for over 50 years, so this was gonna be a bit of a challenge.

At first, I was riding around Closes Park in West Drayton (1.25 miles) which I would do 2 or 3 times. These short rides were really hurting my legs - especially my thighs - they hadn't seen this level of exercise for many years.  I slowly started doing slightly further rides - around Harmondsworth Moor, out to Staines Reservoir, up around Little Britain Lakes, and many rides along the towpath of the Grand Union Canal. 5 miles, 8 miles, 10 miles and getting a bit further, week by week. Then I did; a 20 mile round trip to Rickmansworth Aquadrome, another from West Drayton to Brentford and back, another to Lock 81 on the canal, then 32 miles to Padding, along the Paddington arm of the Grand Union Canal. It was wonderful. I have been living in West Drayton for 20 years and didn't realise how beautiful the local area really is. Such a diverse range of wildlife, walks, rides, it was never-ending. I was now going out for 6 or 7 rides a week - many times accompanied by my granddaughter. I also started a local cycling group on Let's Ride.

The one negative point when doing these rides was that I became aware of the large amount of rubbish - bottles, cans, drug related items, etc., were being dumped along the towpath and river banks. I knew I had to get involved in some sort of attempt to help clear this up so I did a bit of research and found a Facebook Group called Friends of Grand Union - a wonderful group of people. They post lots of photos of the canal, stories about its history and - very importantly, they arrange Litter Picking Days at various sites along the towpath.  I’ve now been involved with this litter picking for the last couple of weeks of October 2020, mainly from Hayes to Bulls Bridge, and will be doing the path from the Malt Shovel pub to Stockley park as soon as i can get it arranged.

Covid 19 certainly changed my life - but I got lucky, many have not.

Alastair Martin, West Drayton


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