Camden’s first female street sweeper tells Town Hall: You need more grit!
Pat Gray recalls how she earned the nickname, 'the Camden Bullet'
08 March, 2018 — By Tom Foot
Pat Gray out in the snow
CAMDEN’S first-ever woman street sweeper has slammed the “shoddy” performance of the private contractors who followed her during last week’s big freeze.
Pat Gray, who lives in Camden Town, said elderly people had been stuck indoors for days because there wasn’t enough grit on the pavements. She worked for the Town Hall before the service was privatised back in the 1980s. Ms Gray was nicknamed the “Camden Bullet” for her lightning-fast gutter-sweeping skills.
She said: “When we used to sweep the roads, we had to grit the roads too. So why aren’t they doing it now? Years ago, it used to be gritted. But this year, none on the main roads, none of the paths. They just do the zebra crossing. What are we supposed to do, fly from the zebra crossing into the shop?”
She added: “There are a lot of old people living in this area, a lot of people go to the dinner club at the Irish Centre – they couldn’t get out because of the snow. I was talking to them today and they said it was the first day they’d been out since the snow.”
Ms Gray recalled how she and another woman were the first women to be employed as council road-sweepers in Camden in the mid-1980s. She said: “We fought hard to get those jobs because Camden Council had no intention of employing women, but they had advertised and women applied. Six of them passed the physical test. We had to push a pallet up and down twice, [and] lift a full refuse bin, twice. “We did all that but then they said we didn’t pass the interview. I said, ‘what sort of interview do you need for this job?’ So I rang the CNJ and told the reporters the story.”
Ms Gray said that shortly after this the two women were offered a job. She added: “We were up at Cressy Road and the men were good to us, most of them. I said to them, I’m just as loud and nasty as you lot – and I could do the job. And after a while they took to me. “I had a nickname – they called me the Camden Bullet because I really flew, I swept really fast. I’ve been called a few things in my time, but I would always do a job. I’d do it properly.”
Councillor Adam Harrison, cabinet member for improving Camden’s environment at the Town Hall, said: “Gritting priority roads – and pavements outside hospitals, fire and police stations and schools – is the focus during cold snaps. A lot has changed since the 1980s, particularly in terms of regulation and funding, but we will always seek to learn from extreme weather events, especially if climate change means we need to respond to them more frequently in the future.”