Running a fleet in high profile public spaces

22 April

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How do you keep the public and your employees safe, and vehicles running, when you manage a national park stretching over a vast area which usually attracts millions of visitors? Jon Pimm, of the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority, explains.

For Brecon Beacons National Park Authority, adaptability is a way of life. Working under the Welsh Government, the organisation maintains 520 square miles of countryside, enabling easy access for nearly four million visitors per year and offering support for its 35,000 residents. Area warden, Jon Pimm, says that role remains absolutely vital – albeit with some unprecedented challenges for day-to-day operations as the pandemic unfolds.

“Certain areas of the National Park are closed, and our car parks are shut, so we’re out checking that the barriers are in place, ensuring people aren’t using them, and explaining the situation to anyone we come across – most people are quite receptive,” Pimm says.

“Obviously we've been told to keep a safe distance from the public, as everyone has, and that's quite alien to us. Usually we’d pull up, put the driver's side window down and have a chat. So it’s a really different way of working.”

The authority is based in Brecon and operates a fleet of pool cars for office staff, many of which are electric, alongside heavier-duty trucks for wardens. With no full-time fleet manager, responsibility for the vehicles is shared between Pimm and Kevin Booker, IT systems and fleet officer, which allows specifications to be drawn up based on wardens’ requirements.

It's warden fleet was replaced last year, comprising 10 Toyota Hilux pick-ups with bespoke, secure rear compartments, and a plug-in hybrid Mitsubishi Outlander Commercial. Ordinarily, these are stored at regional depots enabling staff to collect tools, trailers and other supplies at the start of the working day.

Pimm says this was changed early on in the crisis: “Given the unusual circumstances, each warden is now taking their vehicle home to minimise potential cross-contamination or crossing over with other staff at workshops. We're lucky really that everyone has got their own allocated vehicle, which means it’s a safe space to work in as it’s only the driver that’s been in it.“

Normal working patterns have also had to adapt. Several staff are already self-isolating, which has reduced the size of the team, and this in turn means others are working outside their usual remit and geographic area. Pimm says wardens were advised to check fluid levels, particularly AdBlue, early in March to ensure vehicles could continue to operate. Staff were also instructed to wash hands regularly and maintain safe distances when the occasional need to work together arises.

“We haven't been pairing up in the same vehicle for several weeks. So if two of us are out doing a job we’ll take two vehicles, where previously we've always said ‘you need to take as few vehicles as possible’. That’s a big departure from what we normally do,” he says.

Already used to remote working, the authority already has systems in place so staff can communicate easily when out in the park. Pimm says web conferencing has enabled them to keep in contact with other organisations, such as Powys County Council, the National Trust and local police forces to put measures such as road and layby closures in place, and also to communicate these to the public. But, he adds, it’s also been an important tool for checking in on co-workers’ mental well-being.

“Face-to-face contact is, obviously, proving difficult, so we are relying more heavily on technology. Not just for official things, like sorting out work programmes, but also for light-hearted conversations to keep everyone jolly. Wardens quite often work on their own, and even more so now, so could potentially feel isolated if they're not engaging with as many members of the public or doing their normal jobs.

“So that is just as important as the official communication. We’re lucky in that we’re a close-knit team that get on really well. I think times like this just reinforce that working relationship you have.”

Where possible, the authority is working closely with communities too, with many of the office staff volunteering within their neighbourhoods, and Pimm says the visibility of the warden fleet makes them an approachable presence if residents have concerns.

“A lot of our wardens live in small rural communities, so they have got involved in ensuring no-one is suffering unnecessarily or in need of anything. Because no-one knows how long this is going to go on for, or what's going to happen from one day to the next, we're looking at the possibility of staff being able to get more involved in that side of things,” he explains.

“When you have a warden’s truck parked outside your house, everyone knows who you are. So you're one of the people that the community come to for help or guidance, and that's all part of the job. At times like this, it's quite nice that people feel they can do that.”

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