Ewan Mullenger, a marine apprentice on the Tideway project, is currently working as a deck hand aboard one of the many barges ferrying spoil down the Thames.
London born-and-bred, the 21-year-old says he all ever wanted to do was work on the river, following in his brother’s footsteps.
‘We all heard about Tideway,’ he says, ‘and that there would be more work on the river. So, from a very young age and then as soon as I left school, this is what I wanted to do.’
Ewan studied engineering at college, landing a job with Livett’s, which operates vessels on the Thames, but they quickly transferred to the ‘deck side’ with Bennett’s Barges, where he is now more than six months into an apprenticeship.
‘It’s a physical job,’ he explains. ‘You do have to have a bit of fitness about you – pulling the ropes can be hard.
‘You’ve got to have your wits about you and be aware of what’s going on. You also need to be good at working in a team, good at helping other people.
‘We all get along with each other; you have to because you’re with each other for 12 hours on a boat. I get along with everyone, which obviously helps – and we all help each other out.’
Tideway is moving millions of tonnes of material by river – instead of using lorries on the road network – which has obvious benefits for air quality, congestion and for vulnerable road users.
For example, the largest 1,600-tonne barges used on the project can carry as much material as almost 100 lorries – which prevents almost 200 lorry trips across London (to and from site).
But another benefit of using the river on this unprecedented scale is the revitalisation of the river economy – with people like Ewan benefitting from Tideway’s investment.
Ewan says he has learned ‘so much’ in his first few months on the river and gets ‘stuck in’ to a range of important jobs.
‘Before I started,’ he continues, ‘I didn’t know how to tie or throw a rope, but now I’m comfortable mooring up a barge or a tug, so I’ve definitely learned a lot.
‘Working in London is great, especially when you’re doing a night shift and the city’s all lit up – that’s great, something really good to see.
‘It’s a very physical job, and I like that aspect of it. And being able to say that in a few years’ time I could be a captain on a boat is quite impressive to say.’
Ewan says he would definitely recommend the apprenticeship route into marine work, adding: ‘I think it’s good that this project is happening, because it’s giving a lot of work to the river and getting more people into it, more money into it – so it’s good for the river as a whole.’