2023 Castle Clean-Up Sees a “Whole New Generation” of Volunteers

2023 Castle Clean-Up Sees a “Whole New Generation” of Volunteers

200 students swapped bevvies for brooms at the annual clean-up

Returning for its fourth year, the Castle St clean-up on Friday, March 24, saw around 200 students congregate in the Dunedin sun to participate. Hosted this year by the student-led group Hold Onto Your Friends (HOTYF), the clean-up is aligned with the Sophia Charter, dedicated to Sophia Crestani. Organisers were “really happy” with the turn-out this year, speaking to Critic Te Ārohi on the potential of the Dunedin student community to make positive change.

The clean-up is part of a wider initiative to improve the safety and cleanliness standards of Dunedin culture, and raise awareness to the importance of looking after each other and the place we live. Hannah was a friend of Sophia’s, and is passionate about spreading this message: “It’s about looking out for people’s well-being, which means taking care of yourself, your mates, and your environment”.

HOYTF is a student-led initiative, which “stemmed from a group of alumni students that knew [Sophia],” says Hannah. “The purpose of it is to be able to maintain the legacy for the Sophia Charter.” However, it also extends wider than that. Bede is a fourth-year student, whose sister was a good friend of Sophia’s. “Our ethos is rooted in personal connections. It’s about making sure we’re not losing any mates”.

This year is “probably one of the greatest” for HOTYF, says Hannah. “Because it’s not just a group who had a connection” to Sophia. There’s a “whole new generation of students coming through” who have no idea what happened. Things like this serve as “a good reminder” of what’s important. According to Bede, HOYTF promotes a “sustainable but still fun” student culture, focused on “making it long-lasting”.

The group prides itself on its student voice. “It’s definitely a bottom-up approach,” says Niamh, a member of HOYTF. “It’s something autonomous coming from us, the students.” She says that, while the University has been “super helpful”, sometimes it’s good to hear things coming from students. “It’s more effective and students are more receptive to it.” The group is “focused on bridging the gap between students and the Uni” on these sorts of issues.

The clean-up is a good example of taking small steps to create big change. “One small thing you can do to make a difference is cleaning up where you live. It’s a big sign of respect”, says Hannah. Oli, a member of HOYTF, acknowledges that “it’s obviously not going to fix the entire problem, but it’s a start.” She encourages students to recognise the change that is possible with only a bit of effort. “No one wants to live in a shithole. People accept that Castle St is a shithole where you can’t go barefoot because of all the glass.”

The current and ex-residents of Castle St who participated recognise this image that is portrayed of their home, motivating them to get involved in the initiative. “I lived on Castle St last year, and I know we’ve all had experiences of scary stuff. It’s a reminder of our community, and to look after each other and the place we live,” says Ana, an ex-8 man resident. “Being a second year last year, I saw the real effects of living on Castle St. The bottle throwing, glass and rubbish everywhere, people getting injured,” says Niamh. It’s a chance for residents to refute the image of Castle being a “shithole”, and take pride in the place they live. “We’re lucky to live in such a beautiful city. We need to keep it that way,” says Ana.

North Dunedin prides itself on its sense of student community, and the turnout of students speaks to this. “I’ve never seen this before,” says Rob, a member of Campus Watch. “There’s a good turnout of first-timers.” The clean-up enhances this community feel, with “the idea of all working together in a shared space to create change,” says Hannah. “It’s bitter-sweet. But at the end of the day, we’re all here for the sense of community,” says Elspeth, a third-year student who came out to participate.

The impact of the day spans far wider than just Dunedin students. During the clean-up, a woman came up to one student and said how grateful she was for the efforts. “She has a daughter at the day-care across from Selwyn College, and she can’t walk her down the street because of the glass.” By cleaning up Castle, students not only improve their living area, but also the lives of other Dunedin residents of all ages. HOYTF is “excited to host it again.”

This article first appeared in Issue 6, 2023.
Posted 3:07pm Sunday 2nd April 2023 by Anna Robertshawe.