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Meet Middlesbrough’s unsung heroes...

An image of the Middlesbrough Council back alley team which consists of five members. The team are stood together looking at the camera infront of a bin wagon.Come rain or shine, the dedicated workers in our back alley team will be out making the town that bit cleaner, and that bit better too.

The team are responsible for removing rubbish and dumped furniture from the back alleys of terraced houses in the town centre, Linthorpe and North Ormesby.

I went to help out on a sunny Spring day shift with supervisor Kev Spriggs and the rest of the team, to see what a day in their life was like.

It’s an early morning for the lads, who start at around 7am to pick up their vehicles and equipment but I head out later, around 10am, to meet them near Ayresome Park Road.

Immediately, we’re pressed into work in the alleyway at the back of Gifford Street, as we struggle to move an overflowing wheeled metal bin across the uneven cobbled surface to be emptied.

Kev and his colleagues Lee Glasper and John Kieran carry sweeping brushes and plastic bins, to clean up small pieces of litter and debris.

And there’s another problem – two mattresses have been dumped in this alley, just a fraction of the two dozen left strewn across our patch for the day.An image of two discarded mattresses

Kev, Lee and John are accompanied by a bin wagon driven by Rob O’Connell – but the mattresses, as they have metal springs, can’t be collected in that vehicle. 

So they’re dragged to the alleyway entrance and stacked throughout the morning, ready to be piled into two caged vans to be recycled later that day.

It’s tiring work, whatever the weather: “It’s never nice being out when it’s cold, but sometimes it’s even worse when it gets to the middle of the summer because it’s physical work,” said Kev, who has worked for the council for 25 years, 13 of which on the back alley team.

“We’re never short of work. We visit each area every week, and you can guarantee it’ll be full of more rubbish the next time we come.

“But we try and enjoy ourselves – we all get on well, and we have a laugh.”

As we try and move one massive bin, Kev rings for Rob, who along with new colleague Luke Wicks, tackle bulky waste that’s been left in the alleyways.

“He’ll sort it,” Kev smiles. “He’s the big lad – stuff we struggle with he just picks up and throws in the wagon.”

I wander round alleyways behind Brompton, Bush, Napier and Caxton Streets with Rob and Luke.

It’s a Wednesday, and although bin collection day was only the day before, the rubbish in many has already piled up and those bins which are already starting to fill up are emptied again.

Within an hour six settees, armchairs, a number of broken dining room chairs, a baby’s Moses basket, an assortment of desks, tables and wardrobes and a giant wooden sideboard are among the items dragged from the alleys and fed into the powerful hydraulic crusher at the back of the bin wagon.

As the alleyways are only accessible to those living on the surrounding streets, enforcement officers often gather evidence to prove who may have dumped rubbish, and fine or prosecute offenders.

“There’s some things we won’t take, and when it seems obvious where the rubbish has come from we’ll pass it onto the enforcement team and they’ll look at investigating,” Rob said.

“They need evidence though. So they’ll look for things in the rubbish that identify where it’s came from.”

Kids’ toys and split open plastic bags full of food waste and household rubbish greet us in another alleyway.

But what’s the strangest thing Rob’s ever seen dumped?

“Definitely a snake,” he laughs. “It was a couple of years ago, it was underneath some rubbish. “It was just a corn snake, I think it must have been a pet but someone had left it there. Thankfully I’m not frightened of them so I just picked it up and we ended up getting it rehomed.”

An image of the Middlesbrough Council back alley team. All five team members are stood in front of a wagon.