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View from the Frontline: the TfL worker

TfL customer services supervisor Nicola Dinneen on what it’s like being a key worker at Canada Water station

Isabelle Aron
Written by
Isabelle Aron

I’ve been working at Canada Water for 22 years. I’ve been here since before the station opened, when it was a building site. I’ve seen it grow from an oversized neighbourhood station to a major interchange station.

I’m a customer services supervisor but I specifically deal with crowd control in the mornings. It’s a big role. Pre-Covid, we had so many people getting off the Overground to use the Jubilee line, so we had to manage those customers – putting in crowd control, sending them via different routes so we could flow them down to the platform and keep people moving.

We don’t have anywhere near the amount of people that we used to. That’s been a massive change. We still do get quite a few people getting off early in the morning, but there’s less customer interaction now. Before this, when we were really busy we’d have a lot of people fainting on trains – we could have three people in one morning. We haven’t seen anything like that in a long time.

The numbers of customers have dropped so much. Before, you could be getting about 1,000 people off the Overground train in the morning on to the Jubilee platform. Now I’d say the most we have getting off the Overground is probably about 110, so it’s a massive difference.

My role is more staff-focused at the moment, making sure they’re okay, that they’re comfortable being at work, that we’ve got the correct measures in. 

The staff are okay, but they have family members who are concerned about us coming to work. We’re reassuring our family members that we’re doing everything we can to be safe – we have hand gel, gloves, face masks and we’ve got PPE if we need to assist anyone unwell on a train. 

In the old days, we’d be keen to run into a situation, assess it and get it sorted as quickly as we could to get a train moving. Now, we have to step back a bit and be careful about what we do so that we can stay safe and the public can stay safe. 

We’re using crowd control in another way now, for social distancing. We flow everyone down to the platform to space them out. Some people don’t understand why we’re doing it at the moment and we’ve had quite a few complaints. But once you explain that we’re doing it to keep people safe, they understand. If you’re all standing at the top of an escalator, you’re really close to other people. If you’re walking and at a distance, it keeps you spaced out. 

People are tense. They just want to get to work quickly and safely and get home. That’s why we’ve put things in place like blocking off seats so that people can’t sit too close together. Yes, it means there are less seats, but it’s there for a reason. People have been pretty good at abiding by that.

We had a staff member whose stepfather passed away from Covid. They all lived in the same house so he had to do 14 days isolation. After that he was back at work, all while he was dealing with sorting out a funeral for his stepfather. It just shows you the sort of team members we have – we know that what we’re doing is key for people who need to get to work.

We don’t really have a rush hour anymore. It’s slightly busier in the mornings because we feed four major hospitals – Guy’s, St Thomas’, King’s and Whitechapel – so we get a lot of NHS workers coming through. But it’s nothing like the past. You’ll either get quite a few people coming to work or people finishing their shifts and coming back. It’s a little busier around 6am to 7.30am.

I’ve been cycling to work since the start of lockdown. I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve been on a tube since lockdown started. I live 15 minutes away from the station by bike and it just means I’m taking up one less space on the train.

The station is being disinfected with a 30-day antibacterial spray, which they use on train carriages and stations. Every morning we have a cleaner who cleans all the door handles, the desks, our shared equipment like radios, keys – everything has to be wiped and cleaned so that staff are confident that there’s no risk for them using that equipment.

It’s been surreal, a bit like a movie – going from managing crowd control in the mornings to that crowd being gone all of a sudden. It just stopped overnight. That’s normally the main role of my job. It’s been really strange for everyone. It’s gone from a fast pace of life to a slower pace of life.

Read more from this series:

View from the Frontline: the St John Ambulance volunteer

View from the Frontline: the supermarket worker

View from the Frontline: the pharmacist

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