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21 March 23

Affinity Water’s History Man retires after 44 years loyal service

Steve Baker has worked man and boy for Affinity Water for 44 years. He joined the Company on 20th August 1979 when it was then called the Lee Valley Water Company, which predated the Three Valleys Water Company which then through take-overs and amalgamations became Affinity Water in October 2012, which now embraces a 170-year history.

Over the years Steve’s curiosity whether it is looking up at railway signals or down at covers, led him to recall and write about Affinity Water’s history on an internal blog site called Yammer where his colleagues regularly comment on his musings.

Over the years he’s performed 13 roles, including as a chauffer for the General Manager, and being out on site as a supervisor but he started as a junior draftsman, with few qualifications. He came to interview without a shirt or tie, but did have a jacket, holding some drawings he had done on the back of old wallpaper and managed to pip 30 others to the post.

A recent Yammer blog told the history of a sluice valve cover, made by Biggs Wall that a service technician brought in and that led to a debate on brutalists architecture. As Steve says, “one thing leads to another”. But it is definitely a much more colourful business now as when he joined everything was “grey” even the vans and uniforms and now there are bright blue gleaming vans with duck logos on.

One of his most surprising roles was as a mains laying supervisor, which colleagues helped him to grasp. “It’s teamwork, going out as opposed to being the technical drawer, but it’s teamwork. I can see my achievements and the teams’ achievements everywhere I go.”

The maps Steve drew when he started are still in the Affinity Water archives, and he recalls how his grandfather an electric power station manager, Alexander Neville Baker, gave the local plans of the water mains in 1959 to Affinity Water, and some of that data is still in use today. Quite a family legacy.

He’s also lived through several revolutions in the office including learning how to print on a proper press and managed to send out 360,000 bills twice a year and working late to get these sent out complete with a pre-paid envelope to return to the Company. “It was blood sweat and tears at the time”.

“There’s something special about water, it is not like the other utilities, it is much more local for people,” he said.

The Yammer History group will continue, and Steve urges everyone to continue the forum. He has left a powerful legacy with over 800 backlog stories to read up on.

NB: Our picture shows Steve by the Brooming Green Pumping Station in Stevenage, built in 1934, where he first started work in a nearby office that was a purpose built Swedish wooden hut.

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