Covid-19: Tony's story
Covid-19: Tony's story
Life as a bin man can be tough. Early mornings, heavy bins, the huge distances involved in visiting thousands of homes and inclement weather ensure its a job not for the faint hearted.
Then coronavirus came along and made it even harder.
“With it being lockdown we’ve been collecting about seven tonnes a day extra just on my vehicle,” said driver Tony Gallagher, who’s been keeping the streets of Newcastle clean for almost 40 years.
“That means just today we did about 35 tonnes in our one wagon, with the two lads at the back having to manhandle all the bins containing that from outside people’s homes, to the truck.
“The days have been long, the bins are heavy and it’s hard work, but we just get on and hope to get back to some level of normality as soon as possible.”
The 58-year-old, from Fenham, said the past few months have been a “weird” experience as, while all the city’s bin collections have been maintained, safety measures and support to ensure social distancing leave him alone at the wheel.
“It’s really close with all the lads – But to keep them safe they’ve been travelling round in a minibus, following me in the wagon, and it’s been weird not having them there in the cab,” said Tony, who joined Newcastle City Council in 1981.
“We’ve got a good team – I enjoy it and I feel lucky to have this job.”
As well as redeploying transport usually used by the authority’s special educational needs and disability (SEND) service, the council also made other changes to support and protect its frontline teams during lockdown.
“We’ve been issued with PPE,” said Tony. “We’ve had facemasks and jars of hand gel and when you pick the keys up on a morning they are separated out so we can keep our distance from each other.
“And with us working longer and harder what the management have done for us is arrange an extra day off a month to try and give us some rest, which is appreciated.
“That still means we have to find the crews to fill those gaps, but we’ve trained lads from different departments, including managers, to help – There’s one guy in the teams I work with from civic amenities and I think he’s done magnificently.”
Over the decades the former builder has seen the area change dramatically, along with his day to day work.
“Newcastle is a fabulous city and it’s changed so much,” said Tony, who with his two loaders Ted and Kevin, have nearly 120 years combined experience.
“I didn’t expect to be working for the council all this time – I used to work on building sites, but you’d get laid off in the winter, so a friend suggested it and I started out as a 40 week temp.
“To begin with I did the barrows, then they were looking for drivers for three wheeled vehicles, and then we got transit vans.
“My friend and I then did our Class 1 heavy goods vehicle tests, and I’ve been a driver ever since, including 10 years on the gritters, up and down main roads like the A69 on the big six wheelers.
“The city has expanded hugely since I first started and the tonnage of rubbish that we now collect is unbelieveable.
“The lads - one of them is 59 and the other 58 - are walking 14 to 15 miles a day.
“But it’s been great – With more people at home we’ve seen them coming to the window and waving, particularly children, and quite a few coming out and clapping, or leaving notes and pictures on their bins.
“All the lads have been bringing the nice messages back and we’ve a pin board in our depot reception, so we can all share that appreciation.”
Tony arrives for work each morning at around 5.50am, checks over his wagon – which was new last year as part of an ongoing multi-million pound investment by the council to introduce more efficient vehicles in the city – and heads out to make collections between 6.30am to 4.15pm.
His rounds see him on one of eight different routes, which rotate daily over a fortnightly period, taking in areas like Cowgate, Walbottle, Lemington, and Benwell.
And he drops off recycling for processing in Byker, where Tony is full of praise for the team dealing with all the extra waste.
“They are working really hard to process all the extra rubbish that we are bringing in,” he said.
Pandemic or not, the married father-of-two hopes that with more people noticing their waste collections, it might make them think more about how they can help crews carry out their rounds.
“I think if there was one message I could give to people it would be to be aware that we need to get round, and to put the right things in the right bin.
“With cars parked it can be hard to get around – I don’t think people realise that we’ve a 26 tonne wagon that needs to get down back and side streets, and often I’ve got to squeeze through with just a couple of inches on either side.
“It would be nice if people could just think ‘Oh, it’s bin day, I need to park a little further over.’”
For more information about bin collections in Newcastle, including how to check your bin day, visit www.newcastle.gov.uk/bins.