Waterman prepares to step down after 50 years

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John Eckert

Reading-based slow sand filter technician John Eckert is preparing to step down after 50 years’ service at Thames Water.

The 65-year-old joined the sewage treatment works at the then Wallingford District Council in 1967, just two weeks after leaving school aged 15.

Thames Water was formed seven years after, and John moved around the Thames Valley in a variety of roles, including as plant attendant and plant operator at numerous small pumping stations near Reading.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, he was heavily involved in the redevelopment of Bearwood Reservoir, Arborfield pumping station and Earley Reservoirs, before moving to Fobney water works in 1997, where he has worked ever since.

The stalwart has struck up some special friendships over the years and has become close friends with Graham Oliver, who has also worked for Thames Water for more than 40 years.

He said: “I’ve known a lot of people for a long time, especially Graham. Everyone says we should be married because we fight and argue, but we love each other really.

“We’re basically the experts of the site, we know where everything is and how everything works so we do try and help everyone.”

During his time at Thames Water, he has seen 10 British Prime Ministers, 10 presidents of the USA, the move to the modern decimal currency system plus British soldiers fight in the Falklands, Gulf and Iraq wars.

Despite now reaching retirement age, John will instead go down to a three-day week to help train the next generation of trainees at Thames Water, before fully retiring next year.

John said: “I’ve enjoyed working for Thames. I have seen a lot of people and ideas come and go, but we have really improved a lot of things such as machinery and the health and safety side of things, plus the conservation of wildlife on our sites.

“That’s the most important part because it makes it better for us and helps future generations, and we are always looking to the future.”

And what’s John’s advice for future generations? 

“I always say, you’ve got to look, listen and hear not only what people are saying but what the machinery is doing,” he said. “If you don’t, there will be lots of little things going wrong before it all goes wrong.”

Stuart Hamblin, site manager at Fobney WTW, said: “It has been a pleasure working with John over the years and we really appreciate him staying with us for a little longer, albeit on a part-time basis.

“He is an invaluable and popular member of our team who has shown great dedication and commitment to his job, and we’d like to thank him for all of his hard work over the years.

“Fifty years is a huge achievement and probably something I will not come across again.”