Counting boats does not make you sleepy ...
It’s often said by boaters that the Trust’s office based workers haven’t got a clue about the canals and Trust bank staff are consistently scored more highly in customer satisfaction surveys than office workers. Well, on a warm and relatively dry day in August I was unchained from my computer and purgatory of Excel pivot tables to be released out on the bank in central Birmingham to spend a day with boat licence enforcement officer Annette.
This is part of the Trust's new work-shadowing scheme for staff that’s designed to widen our experience and gain insight into different work areas as well as improving team-working.
I suppose before I go any further I have to say I actually really enjoy my office-based role and doing weird and wonderful things with spreadsheets, but I do love getting outside as well to enjoy the canal network. I’ve also been a boater for 16 years so I'm hopefully not totally clueless about boats and boating.
I got to Birmingham nice and early on the train and had time to treat myself to a floating breakfast before meeting up with Annette at Cambrian Wharf. After sorting out various letters that needed to be placed onto craft that weren’t complying with boat licence terms and conditions we set off along the towpath on the New Main line where I got to grips with the Boat Sighting Enforcement Application on a hand held computer.
There was a real mix of boats, from holiday hire boats, private leisure narrowboats, floating homes, the occasional cabin cruiser, and even the most amazing floating plant shop, some moored up and some on the move through the city centre.
Next stop was a nearby long term mooring with quite a few boats. I entered the boat numbers into the computer and followed the prompts to take photos or issue notices or letters with Annette as required. I loved the real time mapping on the app as it made it really easy to select the correct mooring site and the fact that it was constantly sending back boat sightings to the main computer system as I was taking them.
With the old system you had to go back to the office to download and then upload a new file for the following day which was time consuming and it didn’t have the facility for linking photographs directly to boat sightings.
It was then back to Cambrian Wharf to deal with some phone calls that were too difficult to deal with whilst Annette was on the move. Annette’s telephone never seemed to stop buzzing whilst out on the towpath. I can understand customers wanting to get through to an enforcement officer by telephone straight away, but after witnessing first-hand the juggling of phone, pen and notebook whilst trying to find a quiet spot with good reception for a call that might be about a sensitive or difficult subject, I see why it’s not always possible or desirable. So please customers be patient with us so that we can ultimately give you a better service. We do try and call you back as soon as we are available.
Back out again to check that boats moored on the visitor mooring at Cambrian Wharf weren’t overstaying their welcome and to put a patrol notice on a boat that had helpfully chained itself to the water point mooring bollards before going off somewhere for the day. An inconsiderate act preventing anyone else from filling up with water.
Final stop was Gas Street basin and the top of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal to check the boats on the visitor moorings after a brief sandwich stop. By this time the towpath was very busy with local workers on their lunch break, tourists and locals enjoying the warm weather and the many bars, eateries and shops in the area.
Being in uniform attracts people’s attention and a diverse range of questions from people asking for directions, queries about boat trips and other Birmingham attractions, rubbish in the canal, faulty street lights, visitor mooring stay times, a report of a reduction in the number of local water fowl possibly due to a fox and a question from a local resident in a modern apartment overlooking the canal about noise and smoke from boats. Final boat checked it was time to say good bye for now to Annette and make my way back to the station and the long ride home.
So what have I learnt from my day shadowing Annette? Firstly, that Annette’s a lovely caring person doing her best to help customers having problems paying for the boat licence due to financial or other problems find practical solutions. She’s really approachable and does her best to answer all the telephone calls and queries she receives during her normal working day.
Secondly I learnt more about the functioning and functionality of the Boat Sighting Enforcement app. Without the data collected this way we can’t manage the waterways effectively ensuring that boats are licensed and that boats are complying with movement rules and mooring stay times. Finally, apart from being foot sore and tired I had an opportunity to reflect on my role and Annette’s role within the Trust, how we can work together better for the benefit of the Trust and our boating customers.
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