Karen from Bicester thanks residents for their support

Karen Wells is one of the dozens of bin lorry loaders who are proud to be working hard for north Oxfordshire residents throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Published: Monday, 27th April 2020

The 57-year-old fitness enthusiast tracks her steps throughout her 7am to 5pm shift. On any given day she will take between 37,000 to 51,000 steps, walking up to 21 miles. Her efforts contribute to the achievements of her team, who collect between 220 to 250 tonnes of waste and recycling per day at this time of year.

Karen said: “I love working outdoors and this job is great because it gives me lots of exercise. We help elderly and vulnerable people with their bins and I also love the interactions with our residents and their animals.”

But, as in all front-line professions, Karen has noticed a difference since the country went into lockdown. As well as following all advice from Public Health England and the Waste Industry Safety and Health forum, Karen says it’s important to keep a safety-first attitude: “You need to keep the right mindset. We are always thinking ahead to plan for what might happen, if we need to step out of someone’s way for example.”

Like everyone on the team, Karen is enjoying the support of the residents from Bicester, Kidlington, Fringford and the other villages in the south of the district: “The kids are unbelievable. We’ve got lots of their drawings pinned up in our lorries. We are so grateful for the thumbs-up, the clapping, and the waving through windows.

“As a key worker, you’re aware of the fact that we’ve all got to pull together at the moment, and I know everyone else working the bins would say the same.”

Cllr Dan Sames, Cherwell’s lead member for clean and green said: “Our refuse collection crews are doing a fantastic job ensuring that residents have had an uninterrupted service during the lockdown period.

“Key workers such as Karen and her colleagues can often get overlooked and it is great to see the support that they are receiving from residents both by the bins and on social media. We are all really appreciative of the fantastic job that they continue to do.”

Come July, Karen will have been emptying bins for Cherwell residents for five years. But she is only one of a few women in her line of work. She added: “It’s not for the faint-hearted, but I would definitely encourage other women to give it a try – especially if they are into fitness!”

While she is taking satisfaction from making a difference during lockdown, Karen is still missing her evening workouts: “I normally get home from my shift and go straight to the gym five nights a week. I will be first in line when the gym is open again.”