At the time of writing, we are almost two months into a national lockdown. Though the weeks may have felt long, all our lives have changed more quickly than many of us could have imagined.
The majority of the population are still working from home, whilst doing their best to juggle the challenges that come with the lockdown - from keeping the children entertained and busy, to caring for isolated family members, and trying our best to be supportive to loved ones whilst distancing from afar.
Whilst we seek safety and shelter inside, there are those who have little choice but to continue serving their community. And they do so quietly, often before you or I have had a chance to make our morning coffee. These men and women are our essential workers – our delivery drivers, retail shop workers, farm workers, and of course our bin crews.
In the past two months there has been a real outpouring of support for those who are keeping Britain’s wheels turning. What started as a show of public support for the NHS has quickly extended to a public display of thanks to all our essential workers on the front line.
I’m sure so many of you reading this stand on your doorstep at 8 o’clock every Thursday evening to clap, whistle or bang your pots and pans as you gladly show your support and thanks to the UK’s frontline heroes. These workers are battling a war they never thought they’d have to fight.
But these “thank-you’s” aren’t just limited to Thursday evenings. Every day across the country - from West Devon to East Northamptonshire, from Harborough to Barrow-in-Furness - our bin crew are touched by kind messages hung on bins, left on gates and walls, or placed proudly in windows. It's been humbling to see so many families and households go out of their way to say “thank you” to their local crew.
In these difficult times, those messages of thanks have meant so much to our staff. The big question now is how do we maintain this?
For too long our industry and staff have been subject to unwarranted abuse so frequently that it has almost become the norm. I am sure we’ve all witnessed crews and HWRC staff being shouted and sworn at as they go about their daily work. Somehow, this abuse towards our staff became a working reality for our industry.
But this pandemic provides us an opportunity to change how our crews and staff are seen by the people they serve. No longer are our bin crews, HWRC operatives or street cleaners invisible or maligned – they are everyday heroes and their jobs are critical.
Whilst our industry has quietly known this for years, the communities we serve have only just started to realise it. When the coronavirus is far behind us, and our lives return to normal, there are some things that should never go back to how they were before.
But until then, you’ll find me every Thursday – proudly shouting my thanks to every UK hero, to anyone that will listen.