A group of community volunteers from Birmingham are helping to clean up Handsworth Cemetery, ahead of Ramadan.

The successful cleanup operation – which resulted in twenty bags of litter collected – took place on Sunday (12 March) in Handsworth Cemetery, situated in Oxhill Road.

A joint group of volunteers, comprising of members from Friends of Handsworth Cemetery and the Waste Warriors, took part in the litter pick – which also included cleaning graves – in preparation for Ramadan, a holy month which will be observed by members of the Muslim community from 22 March.

Maintaining cemeteries and keeping them tidy is part of my faith, says Ali AkbarAli Akbar
Maintaining cemeteries and keeping them tidy is part of my faith, says Ali Akbar

During Ramadan, many Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. The 30-day period is a time for family, communal prayers, contemplation and self-reflection.

Muslims also take part in social welfare projects such as feeding the hungry, conducting charity work and engaging in welfare activities.

The volunteers hope more people will be inspired to attend the next litter pick in the cemetery Ali Akbar
The volunteers hope more people will be inspired to attend the next litter pick in the cemetery

To get the ball rolling, residents from Small Heath and Bordesley Green came out with steely determination and community spirit to clean up their local graveyard.

Despite the cold temperatures following a week of sleet and snow, the enthusiastic volunteers were prepared with gloves, bags and litter pickers before setting off on their mission to clear litter from four sections of the historic Birmingham cemetery, which boasts a Grade I listed Mortuary Chapel.

Litter was collected from both the Christian and Muslim sections of Handsworth CemeteryAli Akbar
Litter was carefully collected from both the Christian and Muslim sections of Handsworth Cemetery

The operation involved working around both the Christian and Muslim graves at the cemetery, ended in the afternoon with a staggering twenty bags of rubbish collected.

Amongst the trash were beer cans, plastic shopping bags and flower wraps, fast food cartons, disposable coffee cups, plastic water bottles, decaying plants and even broken whiskey bottles.

Some of the waste, such as the plastic bags and wrappers, have the potential to pose a serious threat to birds and wildlife, said organisers.

Discarded plastic water bottles were a common item in the cemeteryAli Akbar
Discarded plastic water bottles were a common item collected from the cemetery

Brummie Ali Akbar, who formed the Waste Warriors volunteer team nearly three years ago, arrived with his wife and 9-year-old daughter to take part in the litter pick as Birmingham’s Muslim community gets ready for Ramadan.

Ali told I Am Birmingham he’s inspired by his Islamic faith, which emphasises community and cleanliness.

“These litter picks are a brilliant way to wean children off electronic devices and get them to engage with the world outside. There are so many wellbeing and spiritual benefits for body and mind, and our city also benefits from the community litter picks.

Beer cans, fast food cartons and plastic bags were collected by the volunteersAli Akbar
Beer cans, fast food cartons and plastic bags were collected by volunteers at Handsworth Cemetery

“I’ve been hosting Waste Warriors since 2020 and this time, I decided to take my wife and my daughter.

“Park litter picks are great but the cemetery session is soulfully rewarding as the place is peaceful, away from traffic and distractions and it’s where the next journey will start.

“It’s very humbling to walk around the graves and realise that as human beings we often take things for granted until it’s too late.

“I find it spiritually rewarding to be a part of this cemetery litter pick and will definitely be returning for another one.”

Ali Akbar, from the Waste Warriors team, and his daughter SairahAli Akbar
Ali Akbar from the Waste Warriors team, with his daughter Sairah

Ali’s wife Sarish, commented: “It was my first volunteer experience doing litter picking in the graveyard with my family.

“It felt very rewarding and it was a good feeling doing something for the community.”

Another first-time litter picker was Saqlain from Birmingham who said: “It was my first time doing litter picking. I actually found it very peaceful and I met new people.

“I would say it was great experience, I will do it again.”

Discarded plastic wrappers can pose a threat to wildlife and birdsAli Akbar
Discarded plastic wrappers can pose a threat to wildlife and birds, say litter pickers

Nasir Hussain, also from Waste Warriors, hopes authorities will take more care in the upkeep of Handsworth Cemetery.

“I noticed signs of negligence at the cemetery such as wild trees growing on the old graves, and old flowers hadn’t been removed.”

Umar Farooq from Friends of Handsworth Cemetery, stressed the importance of clearing litter and cleaning the graves.

“Alhamdulillah (praise God), we had a good turn out and managed to clean the graves. It was lovely to see everyone come together. Next time, we can work around the fences.”

The Waste Warriors have previously helped clear up dangerous waste including used needles, condoms, and even dead ducks and geese from a polluted lake in Small Heath Park.

The proud Brummie volunteers at the end of the two hour litter pick operation in Handsworth CemeteryJosie Wall
The proud Brummie volunteers at the end of the two hour litter pick operation in Handsworth Cemetery

Group founder Ali hopes the current cemetery operation will galvanise people to be more responsible, encouraging them to use the bins rather than discarding waste on the ground. He also hopes more volunteers will step forward when the next community litter pick is announced.

“As Ramadan comes around again it’s a wonderful opportunity for us all to connect with each other and reach out and help. We can all make a difference and make our city better and cleaner.”

Josie Wall, Birmingham City Council Bereavement Services Activities Manager, said: “It was wonderful to see 13 volunteers, including members of the newly formed Friends of Handsworth Cemetery, plus other grave tenders and volunteers from Waste Warriors come out to support the litter pick.

“We had great weather and the team collected 20 bags of rubbish in 2 hours.”

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