Look at Life:Lollipopers

20th July 2018

A Lick of Lollipoppers

By Heather Harris

Other little girls wanted to be ballerinas, pop stars or mermaids… I wanted to be a lollipop lady.

The fascination began on my first day at school, when Brenda gave me a Jammy Dodger. She continued to do so for the next eight years (and for all the other 49 children too – twice a day – every school day). Sadly, she’s since been replaced by a far less generous Pelican Crossing.

And she’s not alone. I was horrified to read that there are now one thousand fewer School Crossing Patrollers (official gender-neutral name with no reference to sugary confectionery) than five years ago. They may appear a quintessentially British sight, but, in fact, New Zealand, Japan and Germany all introduced their versions streets ahead of the UK. London’s first Lollipop Lady appeared in 1953, controlling the traffic with red and black rectangle signs printed with ‘Stop, Children Crossing’. The round lollipop was introduced in the 1960s.

In 2000 a change in the law transferred the responsibility for patrollers to local authorities –and removed the legal requirement to provide them (despite the fact that 55% of child pedestrian casualties occur during the school run). When councils were looking for cutbacks the lollipops were the first to be chopped: the total amount spent by councils on crossing patroller wages has reduced by almost £3 million over the last five years. And this is despite recent research by Churchill Insurance which revealed that 95% of parents and 88% of children aged 5-11 feel safer when there is a lollipopper on their route to school.

Luckily, Hertfordshire is one of the authorities still putting safety first. A spokeswoman for their Active and Safer Travel Team tells me, “We have 153, and 46 are men. Our youngest is 18 and oldest is 85.”

One of the longest serving is Carol Hicks who’s been wielding her lollipop STOP sign outside Swing Gate School in Berkhamsted since 28 April 1981.

That’s 37 years. “With one day off for a family wedding, and a few when I got stuck in Egypt because of the ash cloud,” she says proudly. “I started when my children were in primary school, and they’re now 48 and 43!” she laughs, adding that she’s now crossing second generations of families and must have walked across her junction over a million times.

All the children call her ‘Carol Lollipop’, but that’s where the familiarity ends. There are no more Jammy Dodgers or even high fives, since new Safeguarding Legislation brought in four years ago means that School Crossing Patrolling is no longer a ‘hands-on’ job.

“I used to give every child a birthday card, but I’m not allowed to anymore,” she explains. Despite that, she relishes the job. Standing in the middle of the road greeting impatient drivers with a beaming smile seems to be as satisfying as I always dreamed it would be. Carol even made the headlines in 2014 when she was voted in the Top 100 Happiest People in the UK in The Independent.

“I am lucky though, as I get very little trouble from drivers compared to some of the horror stories I hear from others across the country,” she says.

Dennis Bradding, an 82-year-old Lollipop Man from Tring, agrees. “I’ve been doing this job outside Bishop Wood School for 11 years. I recognise most of the drivers and always give them a wave and a thank you. I’ve never once had any problem. I love this job. Chatting to the children every day in the fresh air keeps my brain active… I’ve no plans to retire.”

There is no upper age limit, as long as the individual is healthy and attends the various council training courses, where all the patrollers across the area get together. (A ‘lick’ of lollipoppers must surely be the collective noun).

Hertfordshire has also seen an increase in youngsters applying, with 18/19-year-olds and 20 somethings often combining it with other part-time jobs. At a rate of £8.50 per hour plus holiday pay, your own uniform and STOP sign for 90 minutes work a day during term time, it is certainly more appealing than a lot of temporary work.

If only I’d known that three decades ago. In my 20s I was being paid in boxes of Matchmakers (remember them?) for babysitting the hideous toddlers next door, when I could have been achieving my childhood dream.

But hey, it’s never too late to reach for the stars – and fluorescent yellow is definitely my colour.

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