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A calling to help the Thames meet new challenges

Christopher, in light blue, joined members of the PLA rowing club at the naming ceremony for Priscilla, our new rowing cutter.

People of the Thames

Early next year, it will be farewell to the Port of London Authority - but not the river - for our chairman, Christopher Rodrigues CBE. Since 2016, he has seen the PLA change radically - and is confident we are well placed to help the river meet the new challenges it faces.

A river calling

“I was born at Bart’s Hospital, within the sound of Bow Bells, and grew up in Notting Hill - before it became smart!

“My first memory of the river is a day out on my uncle Bob’s Thames cruiser, somewhere near Shepperton in the 1950s.

“I got an ear infection from swimming in the river.

“Since I was child the river has been transformed.

“It’s the beating heart of London, no longer a dull, grey sewer.”

A rower in the making

“At school in Hampstead, I was awful at cricket.

“By chance, I was sent to the river for remedial training and fell in love.

“I have never looked back.

“Nothing clears the mind or the lungs like an outing on the river.

“To this day, just sitting anywhere by the river makes me happy, especially on a sunny day.”

Working life

“My first job was selling dog food for Spillers, based in Royal Victoria Dock - while training, but unfortunately failing, to secure a place in the 1972 Olympic rowing squad.

“It was my fellow Tideway sculler, Bill Barry, who introduced me to the world of advertising and marketing. The rest is history.

“A desire to do good for the river and have fun was what inspired my application to chair the PLA. It’s a great gig.

“Naturally, I would love to stay on longer, but it’s time for someone new to take the helm.”

PLA progress

“The highlight for me has been seeing the team grow over the past six years to become genuine custodians of the tidal Thames, invested in preserving and enhancing all aspects of life on the river – commercial, environmental, cultural and sporting.

“We’ve learned to collaborate much more effectively too.

“I am proud that the organisation these days has a strategic, as well as operational focus, a journey instigated by my much-missed predecessor, Helen Alexander.

“Our investment strategy, for example, has concentrated on re-opening disused wharfs, which will be an all-important catalyst for more freight and more jobs on the river.

“The PLA has a secure financial footing and a strong, diverse workforce in place, with lots of young talent coming up through the ranks.”

Back in top spot

“It would be remiss of me not to mention that London is now, after more than two decades, once again the country’s biggest port by volume.

“That news did make me happy, I must confess. I am a competitive soul.”

Future challenges

“Producing the Thames Vision has been a major achievement.

“The exciting challenge for my successor will be revising the Vision goals, to make sure they are aligned with new circumstances - post Brexit and post the pandemic, not least climate change and the journey to achieving Net Zero.

“The world has changed, and the PLA must change with it.

“We can’t achieve our goals on our own, so working in partnership with all sections of the river community will be increasingly important.

“Inevitably, there will be some trade-offs.

“The population is growing and river use is increasing, but the river isn’t getting any bigger.

“Trade, recreation and the natural Thames are the three pillars on which our future must be built.

“My strong view is that a ‘coalition of the willing’ is required to deliver our shared ambitions for the river.”

A ring side seat

“Actually, I am not going too far away.

“In my new role, chairing the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA), I am looking forward to keeping abreast of what is happening on the country’s premier waterway.

“The PLA and the MCA share a common de-carbonisation agenda.

“It’s not going to be easy, but I am a great believer in positive thinking.”

Training matters

“I have been a member of the Company of Waterman & Lightermen since 1999.

“It’s a wonderful group of people, who are all passionate about the river.

“I’m delighted that, in partnership with the Thames Skills Academy and the PLA, the Company is driving forward a Continuous Professional Development (CPD) programme for all river workers.

“Safety must remain the priority focus for all of us.

“As the river gets busier, the potential dangers increase.

“Whether you have worked on the river for a long time, or are just starting out, the programme will ensure your skills are up to date, improve your employability and, most importantly, stop avoidable accidents on the river.”

A sport for all

“My proudest moment as a rower was my second appearance in the University Boat Race, in 1971, when we beat Oxford – “The Dark Side” – by ten lengths, in what was then the second fastest-ever time.

“It’s been topped only by watching my son triumph in the Princess Elizabeth at Henley1998.

“I am still actively involved in the sport, getting the oars out as often as I can, and I serve as a steward of the Henley Regatta.

“I think that some people’s perception of the sport as elitist is unfair.

“Back in 1971, we lost the final of the Stewards’ Challenge Cup at Henley to a crew from Thames Tradesmen RC.

Important diary date

“Like many others, I am greatly looking forward to the Boat Race returning to the Thames on 3 April 2022.

“The two-year absence has been too long.

“For all the crews, I am sure it will feel like coming home.

“As I can personally testify, nothing beats the feeling of overcoming the challenges of the Championship course, from Putney to Mortlake.

Quick fire

The river in three words?
Pleasure. Camerarderie. Spiritual.

Top Thames-side watering hole?
The balcony of Leander is pretty good.

Interests, beyond the river?
Opera, ballet, cooking and my family.

People of the Thames
Telling the stories of the river.