(The small sewage pumping stations team)
When you think of a sewage pumping station, you don’t necessarily envisage it could be under somebody’s front room.
Or under a garage, or just behind a front door.
But that’s what the small sewage pumping stations (SSPS) team has been facing regularly as it seeks to bring private stations under the ownership of Thames Water.
Following a change in the Water Industry Act in 2011, water companies were required by law to bring private sewage pumping stations under their ownership, as long as they served more than one property.
Since then, they’ve been scouring the length and breadth of the patch, finding the stations, bringing them back into the company’s ownership and often renovating them to meet Thames’ stringent standards.
“It’s quite a tough task,” says Ashley Book, the team’s operations manager. “Due to their locations, we’re often working in front of people’s houses, or on drives or in extreme cases in their houses, so we have to offer the best customer service possible.
“There’s also a real variety of pumping stations, and the condition they’re kept in. Some have been really well looked after, some have just been left and un-maintained.”
So far the team, which consists of 10 technicians, two technical co-ordinators and two field service managers, has more than 4,000 stations that need to be investigated.
The pumping stations have been built by developers or land owners when their sewer pipes are not connected to the main network, and need to be transported to it.
Members of the public need to alert the team to where the pumping stations, and often they’re only told when the station has failed or when the alarm light is flashing.
As well as bringing the stations up to scratch, as with many customer-facing teams their main aim is to provide the best service possible to the customer.
“We work really hard to do that,” Ashley says. “Often, we have to go back multiple times to the same location to conduct maintenance, so we have to develop a rapport with the customer and, the majority of the time, we have done that and they appreciate the work we put in.”
The team was first formed in 2016 and is approximately halfway through bringing the stations up to a safe and serviceable standard. There’s a dedicated customer services team based at Kemble Court, and they work closely with the Environment Agency and other stakeholders to combat the constant risks of pollution and flooding.
The plan is for the team to understand all of the stations by the end of 2019, and Ashley says the next two years will continue to be a fact-finding quest.
“We just never know what we’re going to find, but the team does an excellent job so we’re all looking forward to the next two years.”