The Almost Year – Project Officer Johnny reflects on his first year on the river

The Almost Year - Johnny Wells Project Officer

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It’s been almost a year since I started working for the WOLCT. But if you’d seen me today down by the Anthony Gormley statue, in my thigh-high waders, litter picker in one hand, bin bag half full of wet wipes in the other, eyes full of wonder and a smile on my face you’d be mistaken for thinking I’m was still in my first month.

As before I joined the WOLCT I’d spent four years working for the National Trust of Scotland, living out of a rucksack leading working holidays to the four corners of the country, I was ready to put some roots down again in Edinburgh and see the impact of my labours. In my kit bag I was a jack of all trades, I  knew where to source the best biscuits in Edinburgh for tea breaks, had dad jokes galore to break up back-breaking tasks and the ability to swing a mattock all day if required. Thus when I walked through the centre’s door back on the 20th of January 2020 to start in the role of Project Office, with the task of planning and leading conservation projects along the length of the river I had a certain confidence that everything was going to be ok.

Obviously the fact I’m still here with a smile on my face tells you it hasn’t been too bad. But it’s been an experience from the first Hit Squad project where twenty three volunteers turned up to meet the new kid and my head exploded both from trying to remember as many names as possible but also to keep track of what everybody was doing. Since then I’ve loved getting to know the seventy regular volunteers who are part of our Hit Squad team that come out to work on the river and nailing almost everyone’s name.  It’s been great gaining confidence in the wealth of skills they bring to get tasks done, knowing who to give tips to help them develop their confidence and who to reign back before they get litter fever and chase after rubbish over spiked fences.  

Of course some challenges have arisen, the ones you expect like having to learn the variety of locations along the river. Some which are logical and some from something back in the day which isn’t noted on any current map.  My key piece of advice to any future employee is learn your bridges as there are a lot including  Bell’s, Bogs, Belford, Bonnington, Cannonmills,  Colt, Colinton, Currie, Dean, Great Junction, Sandport, Saughton,  Slateford, Sunbury, Stock, Splash, St Bernard’s, Tanfield,  Victoria and West Bowling Green. Knowing these makes it a lot easier to describe where you are when trying to meet someone and planning work.

Obviously the biggest unexpected challenge this year has been covid , from the initial lockdown bringing a halt to all work, being furloughed for six weeks, adapting all our working practises, returning and working with increasing numbers as restrictions allowed. Then back to a situation where most days I’m working by myself doing small tasks to keep the walkway in the best order I can.  Like everyone else I’ve been holding onto the knowledge that these are extraordinary circumstances that will change again in future. As for a couple of days when I’d climbed into the van, cleared ice from outside and inside and then headed out to smash ice and grit parts of the walkway I did feel as if my impact was so limited, however at the moment everything helps especially as the walkway is probably busier than it has ever been with people desperate to be outdoors.   

So keep going folks and thanks to all that have helped make this first year so enjoyable from staff, hit squad, river patrollers, centre volunteers and many others that have chatted when they have seen me on the walkway. I look forward to having some company on tasks in the near future so I can get back to biscuit eating.

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