‘Surroundings or conditions in which a person, animal or plant lives or operates…’ So says the dictionary, when looking up ‘environment.’ These days, a word generally associated with fresh air, open spaces, ecosystems and lots of green! Whilst that description is deemed to be correct, our buildings, other structures and streets that surround us are also important for a better atmosphere, living experience, and yes, our ‘environment.’ The conditions in which they’re kept or not and where and how they’re built is also a matter of concern for many and that, certainly includes, Tommy Finlayson!
Tommy describes himself as an ‘ambassador for Gibraltar’ especially when showing tourists – or visitors, as he likes to call them – around the Rock on coach tours. But making sure tourists leave Gibraltar with a good impression is certainly not just what it’s about for Tommy, “I’ve been concerned about our surroundings for many years now and not only to convey a good message to visitors but for our own citizens. Also, to try and instil more civic pride in our day-to-day dealings in how we conduct ourselves, from encouraging individuals to pick up their dog trash and litter to educate others to stop painting graffiti in places, especially where areas have just been cleared, cleaned and painted around the city and the Upper Rock.”
Tommy spent about 20 years in England and Scotland as a weapons engineer with the MOD, an occupation, I would dare to say, potentially preparing a country for war and destruction not sitting very comfortably with a clean and pleasant environment! “That’s right, and it’s on returning to Gib and eventually leaving the MOD that made me realise that my calling somewhere inside me must have been to care for exactly the opposite, to help as much as I can, look after our surroundings and create a healthier atmosphere for all.”
“When I was a child and in my young teens,” Tommy recalls, “all of my close relatives lived around the area of the Alameda Gardens. The gardens were a playground for me and my friends so caring for the environment must have been in my subconscious somewhere but not until my 30s did I realise what that meant to me and how it would play out in my daily life.”
Tommy says he was encouraged to think and attempt to put things right locally when he returned to the Rock and watched the ‘Talk about Town’ series on GBC TV which highlighted little and not so little issues that needed addressing around the Rock. Coming to him as an epiphany perhaps, he set up a group called ‘Wake up Gibraltar’ which still runs today and began to get involved in clean-up campaigns, assisting the ESG eco-friendly group and others in an effort to put things right. He’s into photography so armed with his camera (which he carries with him everywhere) began to photograph and video ugly sites, nooks and crannies wherever they were, some of which still ‘survive!’ That was around 2005 and up to the present, Tommy maintains his interest in helping to improve things here in whichever way he can.
These days he lives in the Flat Bastion Road area close to the Upper Rock walkways and sometimes visits a particular route where a popular tourist footpath leads to the Nature Reserve which is invariably used as a dumping ground, “That’s where I’m constantly reminded of Gib’s well-being and unfortunately, giving tourists such a bad impression. There are many individuals, as in most places, who just don’t care about the environment and where they dump stuff, but Gibraltar, being so concentrated, you’re bound to come across ugly sights more often than maybe you would elsewhere,” Tommy says, and he really takes all of these issues to heart.
He’s a member of the Gibraltar Government’s Litter Committee and says things are looking up a little since they employed Litter Wardens. Tommy’s also a member of GOHNS, The Heritage Trust, History Society of Gibraltar as well as his own Wake up Gibraltar group with a handful of other committed environmentalists. I get the impression, however, Tommy sometimes finds it difficult to round up helpers for his often impromptu clean-ups and other activities but says there’s no way he’s giving up. “Others have fallen by the wayside but I’m in it for the long, long run!” Of late, he’s joined the Nautilus Project with the family and friends of instigator Lewis Stagnetto. “That’s right, Nautilus concerns itself with the amount of plastic pollution which ends up in the sea remaining intact for decades harming life in the oceans and ending up on our beaches and coastline.”
Those commitments don’t seem to be enough for Tommy for he regularly attends Development and Planning Commission (DPC) meetings at the John Mackintosh Hall where developers and potential developers apply to seek permits and ‘green lights’ to build or refurbish structures in Gibraltar’s soon to become ‘saturated land available,’ for even more development; “The amount of development going on is unprecedented on the Rock and care has to be taken on how plots are allowed to be built on and whether there is some benefit for the government or does it just benefit the developer. Sometimes, there’s a need to think and see things outside the box.” What’s built, how high, whether compatible or otherwise with what surrounds it or whether existing structures may be knocked down which may have some heritage value. These issues must also be addressed and Tommy has become a veteran of DPC meetings attending as a simple member of the public with no vote but feels he may be used to gauge public opinion. “Not unlike politics, much is commented during coffee breaks or in the corridors that could serve as useful background information for a particular issue. Contributing an opinion from the floor is not allowed but sometimes I can’t help but murmur an opinion or two and told to be quiet!”
There’s no doubt our man Tommy is a concerned individual when it comes to our environment. Buildings, car emissions and the need for more use of public transport and bicycles, protecting the limited green areas in our city, managing ‘dog affairs,’ heritage matters and generally promoting civic pride. He’s acknowledged he’s in it for the long run only taking a break to bird watch – of the feathered kind of course – and forever with a camera on board hanging over his shoulder ready for that revealing, unsightly snapshot!
words | Richard Cartwright photos | Tommy Finlayson