Words by Abi Scaife
For many, the realisation that London’s Thames River has beaches is a surprising one. They’re not quite the white, sandy beaches many of us envision escaping to for our holidays, but they are nonetheless beautiful.
Flora Blathwayt was living in London, very close to the Thames, when the first COVID-19 lockdown was announced. Restricted to her home and local neighbourhood, Flora began spending more time on the beaches of the Thames when she was able to leave the house.
“I hadn't really explored much because you know when you're busy in life, you don't!” laughs Flora. “I started litter picking and going on walks more and more during that lockdown when you were allowed two hours [of] exercise … I get really bad anxiety and I guess for me, being blasted by fresh air and hearing the waves is all very soothing.”
Unfortunately, like the Thames itself, its beaches and banks can be littered with rubbish. Flora had attended one beach cleanup before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and enjoyed it. It was there that she found her solace during the UK lockdowns.
What started out as a way to get out of the house and help her mental health has now transformed into a business - as well as a way to give back to the planet.
“I started posting on Instagram about being outdoors, and collecting really random things like sequins, buttons, bottle caps, and thinking ‘this is so random, all the treasures you find’,” explains Flora. “Some of the gems I was finding were so colourful and pretty … how was this rubbish? And so I took some home and started making greeting cards with some of the little bits of treasure and plastic that I'd found and sending them to family and friends who I couldn't see in lockdown.”
Thanks to her experiences during lockdown, and how important her beach cleaning was to her mental health, Flora began Washed Up Cards. This social enterprise is all about removing plastic from our rivers, oceans and beaches, and turning it into something positive.
Here at Smiley News, making the planet a better place while making someone smile is kind of our thing!
“Each little card has its own story,” explains Flora. “It's changed as I've grown the business, but in those early days it was more [about] connecting with someone. The post is a lovely way to connect with people and stay in touch.”
Since the inception of Washed Up Cards, Flora’s business, and her community, has grown exponentially. She now holds her own beach cleaning sessions and teaches others to make cards.
Flora has also helped raise awareness about dyslexia by posting her spelling mistakes online - something she didn’t realise was helping people until she saw the response.
“I made a terrible mistake on one of the cards … I said online ‘there’s a mistake - who can spot the spelling mistake here, I'm dyslexic’,” laughs Flora. “This girl's mom reached out and said her daughter struggled so much at school, things haven't always been easy and it was so nice to see me having a business and owning it.”
Ultimately, Flora hopes that her cards, and the message that they bring, can be part of changing our world for the better.
“Addressing certain problems with art is incredibly powerful because it gets people's attention,” says Flora. “It can be something which is like ‘wow, fun that's really cool, that's pretty’. But to me, the main thing is the attention that it can get - you can reach more people.”
To find out more about Flora’s work, or to sign up to help her on a beach cleanup, you can visit the Washed Up Cards website.
At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.
The Canal & Rivers Trust. The Rivers Trust are conservation experts who work to create wild, healthy, natural rivers. Support them here.
Every Can Counts. This is a not-for-profit recycling programme, encouraging people to recycle more often, to protect our planet. Support them here.
Trees For Cities. They are working to plant more trees within large metropolitan areas, for the betterment of people and planet. Support them here.