While you’re tucking into your turkey, spare a thought for Sam, who might be dealing with trouble on London’s canals
Sam Thomas, CRT Operations Manager, who keeps the canals running over the Christmas period
‘Flooding is the biggest challenge’ SAM THOMAS - CRT Customer Operations Manager
1 What first attracted you to the waterways?
I started working for the organisation when it was British Waterways in March 2000, an opportunity arose through word of mouth. I was working as a production manager in a factory and saw the opportunity to improve my quality of life through working in a completely different environment.
2 Do you have a favourite canal or river?
I’m fond of the whole London network as I’m a born and bred Londoner. I have an affinity with Camden Locks on the Regent’s canal as I went to primary school in Kentish Town. Brentford is my family home now, having watched my children grow up in the area. We live in the house by the lock. So I’d say Brentford on the Grand Union including the Hanwell Flight.
3 What do the waterways have to offer the country?
Within an urban setting, a place to relax and reflect. Also a great place to experience different people and canal users. The nature and history of the canal network is a natural draw for people who visit.
4 And what do they need most?
Love and attention not only from keen enthusiasts but from the wider community. Ownership is often there from regular visitors but not realised.
5 Where were you based when you were a lock-keeper?
At the tidal locks in Brentford, where the GU meets the River Thames at Thames Lock. It is manned by CRT lock-keepers on a seven-day basis. I managed the locks for four years before moving further afield in London.
6 What was the best thing about being a lock-keeper?
Meeting people and helping them. Also moving from a manufacturing company into the canal environment made me feel very content in my role.
7 And, was there anything you didn’t enjoy?
The 5am starts could be a challenge but not really, it was all part of the job.
8 Have you ever fallen in?
Fallen in twice and once into the hold of a boat, fortunately, with no lasting consequences.
9 How long have you worked on the operations side at the Canal & River Trust?
I’ve worked for 16 years for CRT and British Waterways, in the London team.
10 What kinds of problems have you had to help with?
Anything from helping boaters with engine problems, showing novices how to operate locks, clearing trees that have blown over. Removing cars and other obstructions. Finding lost dogs, cats. Usually directing people to the nearest laundrette or more often the local pub.
11 Have you been on call on previous Christmas Days?
Yes I’ve been called out to remove a car from a marina that had been driven in by a careless Christmas reveller the night before. I moved a crane barge to the location, lifted the car out, handed it over to the police – and went back to my turkey.
12 What other problems are likely to crop up, and how many are in your team?
Flooding is generally the biggest challenge. We have a team of up to eight people on standby who will deploy to specific sites to monitor and manage the water levels. Also supporting our boating customers whose power supply may fail at their home mooring site. We can now remotely access their individual bollards to reboot and power up if they fail.
13 What are you reading at present?
HipHop Family Tree by Ed Piskor. Also Spoon’s Carpets by Kit Caless – yes a book about pub carpets.
14 Who would be your ideal cruising companion?
Fantasy, it could be Björk or Bob Marley but in reality, my two teenage sons.
15 What did you want to be aged 12?
I had my heart set on being a fireman or an architect.
16 What is your proudest achievement?
17 What do you think of people on our rivers and canals?
They are a diverse bunch, remember it’s not just boaters. People that visit really care not just about what directly affects them but others as well. I do like the changing generations within the boating community. As I said, they take ownership and see it as their own, I like that. The people that misuse the canals are a small minority.
18 What do you do in your spare time?
I like to mooch around photography exhibitions and try to see live music.
19 Where would you go on your dream cruise?
The Congo or the Panama Canal.
What superpower would you most like to have?
The power to regrow my hair to its former glory.
Work and home – Thames Lock at Brentford