Meet Eco-Activist Grandma: How She Inspires Positive Change To Fight For Our Planet

2019 was something of a crazy year for me.  It began with me fulfilling a simple promise to clean a beach every week and ended on the stage with me about to deliver a TED Talk about how we can all inspire others to become activists. 2020 of course, has been equally unpredictable, with the worldwide spread of COVID-19 and subsequent lockdowns in regions all over the globe.  Although these are certainly challenging times for all of us, particularly those of us who work in the world of travel, I cannot help but see that there are silver linings about the recent pandemic, which hopefully inspires positive change in the future.

PatSmith Clean Up Cornwall

Eco-Activist Pat Smith Inspires Positive Change 

As a 71-year-old-grandma based in the remote rural community of Cornwall, South West England, it would be hard to pick out a more unlikely eco-activist. Most of my life involves running my holiday cottage business and looking after my grandchildren with whom I love to share adventures.

However, I have always been passionate about the environment. My holiday cottage resort and farm, Bosinver is run as sustainably as possible. From our pioneering building of a zero-carbon emission straw bale house to the new nature trails we’re creating to encouraging car-free holidays and ensuring cleaning procedures we have always done our utmost to be as eco-friendly as possible.

Is Now a Good Time To Talk About the Environment?

In these times of anxiety and downright fear, hearing people preach about the environment is the last thing many people want to hear. And, in dark times it is particularly important to look for some silver linings, some slivers of hope. Given that I am passionate about protecting our planet for future generations, some of the news and memes that have been going around recently have brought some sense of hope at least regarding our efforts for sustainability when we get through all of this.

“Kinda feeling like Mother Nature has just sent us all to our rooms to think about what we’ve done.”

Of course, flights are canceled, people are not traveling, the wheels of industry are slowing and carbon emissions are falling with it. But, what is also happening, and it’s this which makes me hopeful, is that we are literally being given ‘time out’ to think about how we live our lives. In the months after lockdown, will we still feel that working from home and having video meetings is actually a better way to do things?  Will we appreciate having more time to spend with our families, wasting less time commuting? I cannot believe that when this is all over, many more people will adopt this way of life.

I’ve derived great comfort from taking time out for walks in the great outdoors, making time to appreciate the Nature all around me and realising how important, and how beautiful that is. Staying put has been difficult but I genuinely believe that when this is over, we’ll emerge as a society that isn’t so happy to jump on a plane or in a car just because we can.  Hopefully, we’ll all learn to value and appreciate the beautiful world we live in and more importantly to look after it.

What’s Truly Important…Focusing on What & Who Can’t Be Taken for Granted

John Lennon famously wrote that ‘Life is what happens while we are busy planning other things.’ The coronavirus pandemic has certainly shown all of us, on a mass-scale that this is true. All too often in recent times, our lives have been reduced to meeting deadlines. Busy parents grabbing only a few distracted minutes of each day to spend time with their kids, work appointments constantly looming so we are ever trying to squeeze time into an already crowded schedule. Personally, important things like calling friends or popping round for coffee and chats with our neighbors always seemed to be put on the back burner for another day.

One important impact, I hope, of what is happening now, is that we have suddenly all had our minds and attention very sharply focussed on what (and who) is important and the fact that we can’t take the next for granted. In many ways, it’s a real gift to have that wake-up call, at any time of life.

‘A Plastic Ocean’ Film Inspires Positive Change

For me, even though I like to think I had been aware of the threats to our planet that brutal wake-up call really happened three years ago. My family took me to see the film A Plastic Ocean and I became very upset about the urgency of the need to act now. It was then I realised I had to do more. So, I:

  • Became passionate about undoing the damage that had been inflicted on the planet by my generation in my lifetime, and 
  • Founded a group Final Straw Cornwall to get local businesses to do one simple thing, stop using plastic straws, in the hope that doing something small would lead to more sustainable practices. The initiative worked not only in Cornwall but was taken up in other groups around the UK who used our foundation to get started. 

PatSmith Final Straw Cornwall

I remain hugely thankful to have had this wake-up call, and I truly believe that what we are experiencing right now inspires positive change and is going to have the same impact of millions more of us all over the planet. Alongside the grim news of death tolls and lockdown restrictions on our freedom to go and do as we please there is also great news. The canals in Venice are so clear that fish and dolphins are once again swimming in them. The air pollution levels around the world have dropped dramatically as industry stops, albeit briefly, and in regions surrounding the Himalayas, local people can once again see the roof of the world through clear skies.

A recent poll in the UK revealed that only nine percent of us want the world to go back the way it was before the coronavirus lockdown. A world where we were too busy to sit back and appreciate the beauty and the value of the people we love and the planet we live in. So I hope that as the world eases back into a new kind of normal, that normal will involve us all acting far more intelligently and harmoniously to protect our planet.


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About the author

Pat Smith is a 70-year-old grandmother who has made a few headlines recently as a result of her campaigns raising awareness of plastic pollution. She recently completed 52 beach cleans in a year and she's founded a Final Straw movement in the UK where local groups persuade businesses to stop giving out single-use plastic straws. See her TED Talk. Pat also runs a really beautiful cottage resort and she's been pioneering sustainable design in the cottages for decades now and winning awards for it.