This week in my challenge to find out if the best things in life are really free, I have a new task. My challenge is to find out what I can do for free in my local area and nationally, and how it measures up to conventional activities we pay to do.
I had a taster over the weekend. Billericay’s Greening Campaign held its Green Day event at a local church on Saturday to encourage residents to save energy and reduce waste. The day was free to attend. We’d been planning it for months and were a bag of nerves, wondering whether people would turn up, or if anything would go wrong. I set up one of the tables for a couple of exhibitors who weren’t able to attend but had sent us items to display. Typically, once I’d arranged everything, I moved the table and it collapsed. I hoped that wasn’t a sign of what was to come! But the caretaker fixed it and all was well. The Energy Saving Trust, who had a stand, were also running late but arrived just in the nick of time.
Our local MP John Baron formally opened the event and Terena Plowright, founder of the Greening Campaign, Tony Ball, leader of Basildon Council, and Kay Twitchen, an Essex County councillor, all gave speeches. But their most important task was to judge the children’s fancy dress contest. This wasn’t any run of the mill competition. The children had to come dressed in outfits made from recycled materials. So, instead of going to a shop and buying a costume, the parents had to use their imagination and come up with their own designs.
One boy’s family made a robot costume for him from yoghurt pots and what looked like old rubber gloves. It was spectacular. Another little girl came as a princess, but when you got closer you realised her beautiful pink dress was actually a recycling sack, trimmed with flowers and ribbons made from plastic bags. To top it off, she wore a bonnet made from a cereal packet. She looked amazing. The contest was free, but the kids and their parents loved it and it created a huge buzz there. And I was surprised to find that watching it was the some of the best fun I’ve had for ages and incredibly inspiring.
Many people from our community had given up several hours of their Saturday to be there to help out or run activities. Our local poet, Tony Bertolla, had written two poems about the day, one of which was set to music and sung by children from Sunnymede School. Kirsten from the Essex Handicrafts Society ran a workshop table, showing children and adults alike how to make simple toys and brooches from reclaimed materials. She insisted on making me a beautiful brooch from materials I’d selected from her basket and I wore it with pride all weekend. Another lady ran a mask-making workshop for the kids, while members of the Billericay Youth Town Council kept the young children busy with a global warming game.
For adults, in the main part of the church we had presentations given by various members of the community, including one from yours truly. Following me was a teacher from Billericay School who told us about the school’s anti-litter campaign, initiated by the pupils. Another very inspiring woman I met, who is an architect, gave a talk on insulation. Chatting to her afterwards, I discovered that she lives near me and is full of ideas for other community events we could run.
The day cost me nothing, but it was one of the most fun and creative days out I have had for a long time. I left with a real buzz about what people in our community can achieve when they pull together. Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to finding out what else there is to do in my area and around the UK for free. I’ll let you know what I discover later this week.
Are there free activities or events on offer in your local community? Have you tried them out and how do they compare with events you’ve paid to attend? Leave a message and let me know.
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