Chris Jobson, refuse driver, Barnet Borough Council
Chris is one of those council workers who people can see outside their window in the morning. He’s been what is affectionately known as a ‘binman’ for 26 years, 20 of them in Barnet.
He starts work at 5.30 in the morning, arriving at the depot and preparing the lorry for the day. Then he and the two loaders set off on their rounds in north London. The amount of rubbish they collect – two 20-tonne loads a day – and the distances they cover are mind-boggling.
“The loaders walk about 25 to 30 miles a day now,” says Chris. “It's like doing a marathon every day. If you don’t become fit, you’re not going to last.
“It’s a very physical job. You're working in the rain, the snow, the wind, the sun. Then you're dealing with rats, diseases. It's not easy, but you get hardened to it.”
Chris recalls a time before wheelie bins and also a time before recycling. “I remember the recycling pilot we did 20 years ago. Now you have the blue bin for recycling, which is another crew, a black bin for refuse, and a green bin for garden waste. You might have three, four different lorries going down the one road at one time.”
To accommodate his union duties as Barnet’s ‘street scene’ convenor (covering refuse and recycling, parks and green spaces, street cleansing), Chris is currently working as a spare driver, across most of the rounds.
But for many years he had the same route, getting to know the families whose rubbish he was collecting.
“You can get to know the father, the mother, the daughter, the son, the grandchildren – you see them grow up. I’ve even been invited to weddings!” he laughs.
So he’s not surprised when the public is appreciative. “Britain’s bin workers are the fourth emergency service. If we’re not here, it’s rubbish.”
Bobby McKillop, youth worker, North Lanarkshire Council
Bobby specialises in community learning and development in Motherwell, supporting young people between 16 and 19-years-old who have left school without what is deemed a ‘destination’ - they're not in employment, training, or education. His role is to help them move their lives forward.
“Youth work changes lives,” he says. “These kids come from very disadvantaged areas. A lot of them have no qualifications, maybe low confidence, family problems, some come from backgrounds with drug and alcohol misuse.
“We establish their learning needs, look at what’s holding them back in life, the barriers they face, and try to take those barriers away.”
Every youngster receives a tailored programme, helping them prepare for the job market, or independent living, or further education. Some need help with core skills – literacy, numeracy and computer skills, and others with health issues.
Bobby is part of a multi-agency approach that also involves social workers, housing officers and others, with a high success rate.
“You have to be a people person,” Bobby says of his role. “And you have to be in it for the right reason. It's all about empowering young people who need a wee leg up in life.”
An average day will see up to 800 people come through their doors, across all ages – from children and their parents, to students, job seekers, the homeless, to the elderly and retired.
“We’ve known pre-school kids who came for the ‘bounce and rhyme’ sessions who are still coming in now they're teenagers,” she says. “It's a real achievement that people just want to keep coming back.”
Helen’s mother was also a library assistant for many years, eventually running a small library on the edge of the town. She retired just over two years ago.
“She used to work until about 7pm on a Friday night, so my dad would drive me and my brother over there to pick her up, and I'd spend time in the library.
“I suppose I got the sense then that it was a really worthwhile job. It’s in the blood!”
Davey is one of a team of transport technicians based in a Gateshead depot who keep Tyne and Wear’s fire and rescue services in tip-top condition for their dangerous and often life-saving work.
“Our job is predominantly to keep the vehicles on the road, but we cover everything – fire pumps, aerial ladder platforms, foam systems, all the associated equipment to go with a fire engine. We’re also responsible for a boat on the Tyne, for riverside fires and rescues – people jumping off bridges.
“I’m a Jack of all trades and master of none,” he jokes. “Panel beating, welding, fabrication, electrical work, hydraulics, pneumatics. You name it, we do it.”
He also happens to be a North Tyneside councillor – rounding out an extraordinary skill set.
He has a fire service background – while running a fish and chip shop, his dad was also a retained firefighter, one of the many on call and summoned to emergencies by pager. And soon after Davey left school, at 17, he applied for an apprenticeship with the fire service ‘workshop’, as it was then called.
Davey is one of 10 technicians in the depot, half covering Tyne and Wear, half Northumberland. One week in five he will be on call 24/7 (as well as Christmas and New Year's Eve) to take care of urgent repairs to a vehicle or piece of equipment, which means sometimes attending emergencies himself.
He recalls one fire, of a shop front in Newcastle city centre, which involved a fatality, another when he witnessed the aftermath of a car crash. He doesn’t give details, but observes that Tyne and Wear have a “marvellous” psychiatrist to help staff deal with trauma.
“I think it’s great what the fire service does," he says. "And it isn’t just about fire fighters. If it wasn't for us, and the cooks, the cleaners, some of the staff at headquarters, the fire service just wouldn't run.
“There is a lot of pride in the job,” he adds. “I was taught from the beginning that it didn't matter how long it took, when the vehicle went out of the garage it was right – because lives depend on it.”