0 Groundsman forced to retire

A Groundsman who has been part of the scenery in Earley for more than 30 years says he is being pushed out of his job because of his age.

Keith Pope, who retired this week after turning 65 yesterday (Wednesday), has been a familiar figure in the town's parks and round Maiden Erlegh Lake since 1977. He only intended to keep the job temporarily, but ended up doing it alongside his career as a long-distance lorry driver, first for Coca-Cola and later for Courage brewery, and since his retirement from that job in 1998 has worked solely as Earley's groundsman.

Mr Pope, of Lakeside, said: "I've been down every avenue to try to keep the job, I enjoy it and am very experienced. But the town council wants to get rid of my job and employ someone full-time. It's not about the money for me, but I'm not sure what else I can do.

"I know everyone in the parks, hundreds of people, dog-walkers and everyone, I think I've become part of the scenery - but not for much longer. I think they will miss me."

Earley Town Council said Mr Pope's role was going in a "restructuring" of its maintenance division, and told him he could apply for the new full-time post or track down someone willing to split it with him on a jobshare basis. But he said he was given less than a week's notice and so had no time to look for a potential job sharer.

Town clerk Philip Truppin said: "He did request to stay on and was seriously considered, but we are reorganising the whole of our parks management structure.

"He wasn't singled out, this is an ongoing process, and we feel retirement is an easier way of dealing with it than harsher methods of reorganising staff. But he has been a very valued member of the team, his dedication to the work at the Lake and surrounding area is appreciated - he's a very good worker."

Park ranger Grahame Hawker also paid tribute to his years of hard work, saying: "Keith's a very hard-working guy, he never takes holidays or sick leave, he's done sterling work for the council for the past 30 years. He started out when there barely was a town council, when they used to meet in a broom cupboard. He's our Mr Reliable."

Source : The Reading Cronicle

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