The international jet setter who became Chorleywood’s award-winning street cleaner

Updated: 20 August 2021

It’s not the average career path, but Three Rivers District Council’s only female street cleaner has an extraordinary story to tell.

It’s not the average career path – from working as the international director of network communications for one of the world’s most famous hotel brands – to cleaning and tidying the streets of Chorleywood. But that’s the extraordinary story of Rhonda Vanderwood – Three Rivers District Council’s only female street cleaner.

And it seems that whatever she turns her hand to, Rhonda excels – having now been formally recognised by Chorleywood Parish Council with a special award which celebrates her tireless dedication to her street cleansing work throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

Canadian Rhonda moved to the UK 30 years ago when her employer, Hilton International, was bought by Ladbrokes.

From Montreal to Manhattan

“I went from Montreal to Manhattan to Watford,” she said. “I was in Montreal when I started, and I then went to Manhattan and was travelling the world installing computer systems for the company. When Ladbrokes bought us out I came over here in 1992.”

Rhonda took early retirement from the corporate world in 2006 but continued working with people, giving help and advice on setting up companies combined with some childminding. But in January 2020 the role as a street cleansing operative came her way.

She said: “I just thought it was a wonderful opportunity to get 12 hours of work, get out of the house, earn a bit of money and speak to adults as opposed to children all of the time.”

But it would be just a matter of weeks until the world found itself in the grip of an unprecedented pandemic. Rhonda kept working, keeping the street clean, only changing her hours so she could accommodate the need for social distancing when the streets were quieter.

She said: “A lot of people do tend to stop and chat with me, which I think is wonderful, but I wasn’t able to get my barrow around when there were people on the street and obviously staying two metres away was difficult.”

Community champion

Rhonda’s work ethic and devotion throughout the difficult months of Covid-19 has been recognised with a Chorleywood Community Champion Award. In February Chorleywood Parish Council launched the award and received seven nominations all of whom received a medal of recognition and gratitude.

Cllr Debbie Rosario, Chair of the parish council, said: “Rhonda is a fantastic street cleaner and is always upbeat and friendly and is a breath of fresh air. Her personality is as vibrant as her hi-vis jacket. She’s really made her mark on Chorleywood and is loved by residents and animals alike. Thanks to Rhonda the streets of Chorleywood have never looked cleaner.”

Cllr Sarah Nelmes, the Leader of Three Rivers District Council, said: “Rhonda is clearly an exceptional woman doing an exceptional job. Her reputation of dedication, friendliness and high standards are an inspiration and I’m extremely proud that her work has been recognised by Chorleywood Parish Council.”

Rhonda added: “I was quite astonished when I realised people considered my role as being as important as they do. I’m obviously very grateful and very appreciative. I receive great support from my boss and the rest of the waste management team.”

And despite her globetrotting career, it's her award-winning current role which brings her the most satisfaction. “It’s going to sound very strange, but once the travelling got to be more of a chore as opposed to exciting, I have to say that my current role leaves me a lot more satisfied and appreciated. It does sound funny, but it’s true.”