Superhero volunteer Tricia Bland speaks to us about her countless initiatives, fundraisers and events for the village.
Words | Caitlin Charles
Tricia W. Bland’s love for her community is wonderfully infectious. As she welcomes me into her beautiful garden in the heart of Thames Ditton, her radiant positivity makes it instantly clear why she is such a cherished resident.
“In 2007, I moved to Thames Ditton, and the first thing I did was join the Resident’s Association,” she tells me. Alongside her established journalism career, Tricia would go on to transform her community through her volunteer work.
“It’s such a privilege to live in Thames Ditton - we are so lucky,” she says, beaming with pride. “But I do feel like we are custodians of the community, and we’ve had a great life which must be handed over to our children. It mustn’t be a poisoned chalice,” she adds.
Motivated by the future generations of Thames Ditton, Tricia has implemented an extraordinary array of initiatives to help both the community and the planet. Her mantra is “think globally but act locally,” demonstrated by one of her earliest campaigns titled ‘Keep the Heart in our High Street.’
Since 2010, she has made it her mission to improve the local high street and encourage fellow residents to shop locally by adding lights, trees, a website, and a Retailers’ Association.
“People are working differently now,” she notes. “The majority of people are working two, three and four days at home, so our high street has a fantastic opportunity to create a community hub where these people can not only buy and shop and browse, but also to meet people.”
A pivotal moment for the High Street campaign came after her appointment as trustee of the Thames Ditton Foundation in 2013, when she opened Pip’s path, creating a walkway between the Ashley Road car park and Thames Ditton High Street. “I remember cutting the ribbon and thinking this is going to make such a difference,” she reminisces.
“It’s about companionship, friendship, support and having these shared values.”
The Thames Ditton Foundation has since teamed up with the East Elmbridge Foodbank to support those in need, providing financial aid in light of increasing bills. Tricia welcomes anyone in need to pop into St. Nicholas Church, where they can find non-judgemental support and a community cafe. In recent months, the Foundation has partnered with Elmbridge CAN to support refugees and Elmbridge Rentstart to support those who are homeless or vulnerably housed.
After she was voted in as Residents’ Association Councillor for Thames Ditton in 2014, Tricia became one of the dedicated founding members of the Thames Ditton Farmers’ Market. It now takes place on the fourth Saturday of every month at the Mercer Close car park. This year, Christmas-themed markets will be taking place on Saturday 26th November and Sunday 18th December.
Bringing the community together is her strong suit, with the award-winning ‘Thames Ditton in Bloom’ train station garden inspiring people of all ages to get planting. “Twice a year we have major planting days, when we get families coming along to plant up,” she explains. “It’s just two hours on a Sunday morning, and Al opens his coffee shop especially for it - he gives away free teas and coffees and soft drinks, I make brownies and flapjacks to give away.”
From bee-friendly train lines to sewing bees, Tricia has spearheaded a number of eco-friendly initiatives – the Thames Ditton Crafters were the first in the UK to introduce Boomerang Bags to their high street, which replace single-use plastic bags with those made out of donated fabric.
“It changed my life really,” she adds. “It isn’t just about sewing bags, it really isn’t. It’s about companionship, friendship, support, and having these shared values.”
Looking after the environment has been important to Tricia ever since she discovered the imminent danger of climate change, and so she also introduced the Refill system in many of the village shops as well as leading the Thames Ditton Litters Pickers group.
“I do believe that altruism is contagious and countless studies have showed it improves your physical and mental health,” she says. “It’s also a really social thing, you make friends with people who share the same values about community and our way of life.”
To anyone who wants to get involved in local volunteering, whether that’s through weeding or website design, Tricia advises that “you don’t have to be an expert in any of those things, just a drive to do it and get stuck in!”
In the next year, Tricia hopes to raise the profile of her charity, the Thames Ditton Foundation. “Yes we’re doing lovely things like putting lights on the lime tree or planting flowers at the station, but it’s also got a serious message too,” she insists. “We want to help people who are struggling.”
For further information about the Thames Ditton Foundation or any of the volunteer activities Tricia is involved with (or to make a donation to the initiatives) please email: email@example.com
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Check out the websites: thamesdittonhighstreet.com