Up all night

With the Night Tube now launched, Adjoa Wiredu finds out more about those working through the small hours

Walthamstow Central Station

Walthamstow Central Station, from where the Night Tube launched on 20th August

Late one evening, I was drinking a pint outside Ye Olde Rose and Crown pub in Hoe Street when I noticed a guy with a hose pipe spraying water into a large hanging basket.

The water dribbled from the basket, down the pole and on to the pavement. It seemed like a crazy thing to be doing at midnight, so I went over for a chat.

Although Mitkov Asenov’s English was not very good, he told me he worked for a company called Amethyst Horticulture. I found out that for four years his job has been maintaining the baskets and flower arrangements of busy streets across Waltham Forest, and always at night.

“I like this job; it’s easy and I like the flowers,” says Mitkov. But he’s not alone in enjoying such night work. When most of us are going to bed, many other people are just starting their day. Be it a late shift, an evening contract, or volunteering gig, there are some who stay up all night and sleep through the day.

Amethyst has supplied and maintained the floral displays in this area since 2007. They have 15 full-time workers – dubbed ‘water operatives’ – increasing to 50 in the busy periods. But why is hydrating plants a job for night workers?

Alison Fox, who has run the business with her husband since 1998, says: “We water the displays at night to minimise the disruption to the public, with less traffic on the road we are able to easily access all areas. The watering operatives start at 10pm, and have to be clear of the towns by 7am, before rush hour.”

The firm has two wholesale nurseries in Kent and that’s where most of the creations seen around the borough are typically put together. Says Alison: “We grow bedding plants, shrubs, and perennials, and supply and maintain floral displays for councils nationally. We also supply Waltham Forest’s bedding plants.”

They are very specific with their choice of arrangements, as Alison explains: “We choose the plants for their habit and performance, they need to flower constantly, and have vigorous growth from May to the end of September.”

Amethyst has devised ways to improve time management, and Alison tells me about a snazzy trick: “We have developed a range of self-watering containers, with integral reservoirs. These only require watering twice per week.”

While Amethyst is one of the more unusual organisations in Waltham Forest choosing to do its work nocturnally, more traditional nighttime traders include bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues. Some of the borough’s largest companies, such as Allied Bakeries in Leyton, also employ people through the night.

A big boost for all of these late-night workers arrived on 20th August, when long-awaited Night Tube services launched on the London Underground. Transport for London (TfL) passenger data shows that more than half of the people travelling on public transport at night in the capital are people travelling to or from their place of work.

And as TfL was assessing which lines and stations would benefit most from all-night trains, it calculated that there would be demand in Waltham Forest from 2,000 people each weekend. Only one other outer-London borough, Barnet, was forecasted to have more Night Tube users.

The Night Tube will eventually be extended to five different underground routes, but for now the Victoria and Central lines – both serving Waltham Forest – have been the ones to benefit. On the opening night of the service a tube driver at Walthamstow Central told the Echo: “I think the Night Tube will get busier and busier as more and more people realise it is there.

“I think it will be a success. If your choice is to get a taxi or get the underground, you’d get the underground because it is cheaper and often faster as well.

“People finishing their shift at 3am would be stupid not to get the tube home – it is safer, warmer, cheaper. It just makes sense. They’ll be excited that they can now get the tube home each night.”

Asked if he was happy to now be working anti-social hours on the underground, the tube driver added: “I can no longer go out pulling chicks I suppose, but I wanted to get this job. It is not easy to become a tube driver and I was quite happy to take this on.”

TfL estimates that the Night Tube will support around 2,000 new permanent jobs in London’s nighttime economy and provide a boost of £77million a year. Over 500 jobs are linked directly to the operation of this service, with new part-time drivers, station staff, maintenance workers and service control staff employed, plus extra British Transport Police officers put on the network. According to TfL, on average, the Night Tube is helping cut late-night journey times by 20 minutes.

Which is handy if you happen to be a water operative.