Litter-picking Leeds West Academy student Erica scoops £1,000 for canal charity

Erica Thompson on one of her canalside litter picks

A litter-picking by a Leeds West Academy student has landed a £1,000 grant for the Canal & River Trust to help tackle plastic pollution. Community reporter JOSIE ARMITAGE spoke with her about her efforts:

Erica Thompson is in Year 7 at Leeds West Academy (age 11). During lockdown, the school encouraged pupils in all years to get involved in Helping from Home, a First Give social action programme that empowers young people to make a difference in their community. It’s linked to a national competition where students can win £1,000 for a charity of their choice. Details can be found here.

Through her mum, Anna Wallace, I asked Erica some questions to find out more about what had inspired her to get involved.

Erica says her favourite thing about the canals and rivers is they provide a peaceful place to go for a relaxing family walk, especially during lockdown when you live in the city. She likes walking the Leeds-Liverpool canal between Kirkstall and Rodley.

The litter and plastic was spoiling the environment for people and wildlife. By the canal you can see geese, fish, small birds, foxes, deer, even weasels if you are lucky. 

She chose to do the plastic challenge for Canal & River Trust because plastic contains harmful chemicals that are bad for the eco-systems. Micro-plastics can even end up in human bodies by getting in the food chain. She wanted to make people think more about their impact on the environment. Erica says if everyone picked up one piece of litter instead of dropping it there would be no litter left by the canals and rivers in just one year. 

Erica would say to people who litter that she finds it very frustrating when they don’t wait to find a bin. There are lots of bins on the towpaths or even better, you can cut down on single use plastic altogether and choose reusable packaging that you take home. 

Her main message is:

“When you see litter on the ground, it doesn’t mean it’s OK to drop litter in that place. By just doing your little bit to help, it can make a big difference.”

Winning the First Give grant for Canal & River Trust has been a great surprise that she takes pride in, for herself and her school. The £1,000 grant will go towards helping continue the fight against plastic. 

Erica took part on the ‘First Give: Helping from Home’ programme, which we developed and produced in both 2020 and in early 2021 to support teachers, parents and young people through school closure.

Louise Searle, Director of First Give, said:

“Our plan was to give young people the opportunity to be part of supporting others in their communities and provide some inspiration during a difficult time for everyone. The response was truly amazing.

“Using our resources, young people carried out creative and innovative social action during each month of lockdown.  At the end of each month a select number of truly inspirational young people won £1,000 each for a charity of their choice.”

Erica showed her compassion and creativity through her social action to address the issue of litter and pollution, leading by example by litter-picking throughout her community and advocating for Canal and River Trust.

Young people are naturally charitable and altruistic, and Erica’s actions are a clear example of this – I’m delighted that First Give gave her the opportunity and platform to showcase that.



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