Many Londoners will never see them. But the office cleaners and night wardens, healthcare workers, bus drivers and hotel receptionists that keep the city running in the dark make up over a third of London’s total workforceby Francisco Garcia / March 30, 2020 / Leave a comment
In the last few months of 2015, I worked almost full time at a pub in south east London. Though perhaps pub doesn’t quite cut it. Rather, it was one of those infernal places where the weekend sees it straddle the line between lairy student dive bar and lairy student dive disco until 3am. It was tiring, almost illegally badly-paid and too busy to even have the consolation of workplace camaraderie.
At close on a Friday or Saturday, there would be a hasty clean and perhaps the offer of a can to be drunk on the nightbus home. And always, the sense of sprinting against the clock, trying to achieve the usual chores before the professional cleaners came in. We never saw them. The unspoken assumption was that it would be some kind of egregious timekeeping failure if we had. Every night, they would arrive and do their business, leaving the place spotless before another day broke—with the promise of more casually mindless debauchery to come, as it always did, the following night.
London has long been a 24-hour city, though not in the way dreamed of by Sadiq Khan or his gently ineffective American ‘Night Czar’, Amy Lamé. The additions of a night tube and Overground service have failed to immediately transform the city into New York at the same time as scores of London’s clubs and venues have been forced to shutter.
But the night has never just been about entertainment. For 1.6 million Londoners, it is their place of work. The office cleaners and night wardens, healthcare workers, bus drivers and hotel receptionists that keep the city running in the dark make up over a third of London’s total workforce. To the daylight majority, they are often kept invisible—the benevolent ghosts stocking the shelves at Pret and resetting office workspaces. But it wouldn’t take long without their labour for normality to crumble away—even if their contributions are often so disregarded, in almost embarrassed silence.
It is an easy enough trap to fall into, even for those who don’t want to avert their…