Julie Gay is on a mission – to help rid Sheffield’s streets of litter.
“I’m a woman obsessed,” she cheerfully admits, having just been named the fifth winner of The Moor Pride in Sheffield Community Champion Awards, backed by The Star.
Prizes are being handed to individuals who improve the lives of others but don’t always get the recognition they deserve. Julie was nominated as she goes out on regular litter picks in her neighbourhood, dutifully patrolling Dore, Totley, Beauchief and Bradway with a bin bag and grabber.
"She does a fantastic job,” says Julie’s local councillor Colin Ross, who put her name forward. “I often see her on the streets and going to some of the more rural grot spots. A real community champion who just does it because she wants to see her area clean and tidy."
Julie’s motivation was simple. When the former nursery teaching assistant and her husband Richard, an IT consultant, got fed up with litter blighting their community around 12 years ago, they decided to stop complaining and take action.
“I’m a lover of all things environmental,” she says. “I can’t believe the impact we’re having on the ocean, and all the business with single-use plastics.”
Julie, aged 57, lives in Totley, one of Sheffield’s leafier enclaves, but she insists the area is no tidy paradise.
“Litter is a problem everywhere, and everybody drops litter, all ages and groups,” she says. Plastic bottles, cans and sweet wrappers are her most common finds. “People lob things out of car windows or chuck bottles. I just can’t stand it.”
Champions are being picked from each of the city's six parliamentary constituencies; Julie lives in Sheffield Hallam.
Winners are being highlighted in The Star and on a special display on The Moor, where thousands will see their story. The campaign is being run alongside Aberdeen Asset Management, which owns the revamped shopping street and is giving each champion £250 to put towards their cause, plus gifts from the development's shops and attractions. Julie was given a £50 voucher from department store Atkinsons, where she was also treated to tea and cake.
“I’m thrilled about it,” she says.
The first community champion to be recognised was Tessa Lupton, of Fox Hill in the Brightside and Hillsborough constituency, who was nominated for her campaign to get new play equipment installed at Wolfe Road Park, which has been targeted by vandals.
Then Liz Godfrey, of Endcliffe in Sheffield Central, was revealed as the second winner. She was picked for her role as a co-ordinator of the local Heritage Open Days, an annual programme that has rapidly grown in popularity since she took the helm with fellow volunteers.
The third champion was Richard Hay, development manager of the Double Six Youth Club in Woodseats, in Sheffield Heeley. He was nominated for his work leading an organisation that, locally at least, stands virtually alone - a place where young people aged eight to 19 can gather, socialise and enjoy activities from cooking to sports, arts and crafts.
Graham Bell, a Royal Navy D-Day veteran from Handsworth, was fourth in line. He fundraises tirelessly for charities around the city, and visits schools to talk to pupils about his experiences in World War Two.
Julie is part of a wider group of volunteers called Sheffield Litter Pickers.
“They deserve recognition for all their work,” she says. “They keep me motivated and inspired. I adore Sheffield and love the Peak District. It would be lovely if more people stopped dropping litter, it would be amazing.”
She is heading off on holiday to the Mediterranean shortly, but will still be keeping an eye out for discarded rubbish – and is even planning a ‘mini beach tidy’.
“I’m definitely going to do it,” Julie pledges.