Meeting London's Lollipop Men and Women Before They All Disappear

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Meeting London's Lollipop Men and Women Before They All Disappear

Government cuts have forced councils in London to axe a ton of lollipop jobs, so we took a walk around and asked some of the hi-vis men and women what they think about it.
March 30, 2015, 2:40pm

Southwark lollipop man Brian Granger

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

London's crossing guards, lovingly referred to as "lollipop" men and women, are a dying breed. Government cuts have gradually squeezed their luminous signs and hi-vis jackets off the streets and into strip-lit council building storage rooms, with dozens of school crossing patrols axed in boroughs including Brent, Wandsworth, and Lambeth.

The communities London's lollipop people serve consider them vital to child safety, which makes a lot of sense given the fact the "accident incident rate for children peaks between 8 AM and 9 AM, when they travel to school, and again at 3 PM when they leave," according to road safety charity Brake. This probably explains why pupils have protested against the cuts in a number of boroughs.

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While budget cuts are to blame for the decrease in jobs, the potential of having to deal with violent drivers is deterring people from applying for the available roles. A number of people working school crossing patrols in England have even been taught self-defense in case of road-rage flare-ups.

I was interested in what the city's lollipops thought about the current situation, so I took a walk around and asked a few of them.

SHEILA RICHARDS – LEWISHAM

"Get out the road darlin', you're holding up the traffic," shouted a builder in rigger boots and a buzz cut.

It was obvious from the smile on Sheila Richards' face that she saw the funny side. She's been holding up the traffic on St Asaph Road in Lewisham for 38 years and has no intention of quitting any time soon.

"You meet all kinds of people. All the years I've been here I've never had one row—I get on with everybody," she said. "My least favorite part of the job is when drivers are rude—when they 'F'—but I love what I do. You need to be patient, reliable, and have awareness. It's not a hard job, but sometimes you have to risk your life. One driver once asked me if he was supposed to stop, and I said, 'No, I'm just standing here to be killed.'"

I asked Sheila what she thinks about council cuts forcing lollipop men and women out of work. "I think it's disgusting when the council want to cut lollipop jobs," she said. "You're one to be needed, aren't ya?"

CHRISTINE JOSEPH – CAMDEN

Christine Joseph has been helping children cross Torriano Avenue in Camden for four years, working as a domestic assistant when she's not holding her sign up to motorists.

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"I work ten hours a week as a lollipop lady and I'm planning on working a long while longer—I love it," she told me, before a rambling man interrupted our conversation.

"I love lollipop parties… lollipops… I mean lollipop women," he slurred. His speech was foggy but the message was clear: he's a big fan of school crossing patrols, just like the children local to the area.

"The kids compare me to a superhero," said Christine.

JANET WOODEN – ISLINGTON

"I keep my stop sign in the downstairs bathroom," Janet Wooden told me.

Following a friend into the job, she became a lollipop lady in 2006 and has been patrolling Islington's Blackstock Road ever since.

"My favorite part of the job is talking to the kids and knowing they have all got to school or home safely, and being trusted by the parents to know their names and to watch over them on their journeys. I also like the questions I'm asked by the public," she said.

Janet was animated when explaining the role lollipop men and women play: "We are an important part of the community. It is very wrong to cut the funding," she stressed. "We are the eyes and ears for the community; we keep an eye on the kids and return lost property when given to us. Any lost or scared kids know they can come to us for help."

BRIAN GRANGER – SOUTHWARK

Bermondsey resident Brian Granger has only been in the lollipop game for three years, but hasn't looked back since signing up. His patch is Rodney Road in Southwark.

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Abraham, his supervisor, was there when we met to make sure my questions weren't too prying, but there wasn't all that much I wanted to press him on.

What's his favorite part of the job? "I love crossing children and meeting new people," he told me.

FRANK SMITH – TOWER HAMLETS

Frank Smith lives on the Isle of Dogs, only a few steps from the crossing he patrols on Manchester Road. He became a lollipop man when he retired.

"I'll be 55 on May 8," he joked (I think). "I've been doing it for just over 12 years and I do three shifts a day because the children here are very young—they come and go so often."

Frank has been on the end of some abuse during his time on the crossing, but talking to people remains his favorite part of the job.

"I don't like it when cyclists don't stop—they just whizz past ya," he said. "People are rude quite often, but you get used to it. You need a sense of humor and dedication. I don't think the councils should cut any jobs because a lot of small children don't recognize the dangers of crossing the road."

VICTORIA ADAM – WESTMINSTER

Victoria Adam halts traffic on Westminster's Lisson Grove. Her three children went to the school next to where she work, and apparently it's the parents here who cause her the most grief.

"Some parents are very rude. The drivers are OK with me, but the parents are rushing all the time. They have to wait for the green man; they don't understand. When you tell them to stop they're not happy," she told me.

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"I've been a lollipop lady for about 15 years. My favorite part of the job is helping people cross the road, especially the young and old people. People talk to you and it makes you happy, smiling to drivers. It's a lovely job. I love it."

JACKIE CLARKE – TOWER HAMLETS

Jackie Clarke spends her weekdays making sure Garnet Street—close to Wapping station—is safe for local children. She's been working with kids for 17 years and had some big shoes to fill when she picked up her stop sign for the first time, replacing a lady who'd been the longest-serving school crossing patrol officer in London.

"Getting up early in the rain and snow is the hardest part of the job," Jackie told me. "I applied for the position on a whim, but I have always worked with children. I think it's terrible that some councils are cutting the service because, in some places, you really do need them. Traffic does go mad sometimes."