The people making a difference: meet Mr Pothole, the campaigner fixing Britain’s roads | Life and style
Mr Pothole is the scourge of council do-nothings and lackadaisical Highways England engineers. As well as motorists, he worries about cyclists, motorcyclists and people with limited mobility, unable to travel because their roads are pockmarked and lumpy.
It all started in March 2013, with a dangerous pothole on the A422 near Farthinghoe, which is close to his home in Brackley, Northamptonshire. Mr Pothole wasn’t Mr Pothole back then, but Mark Morrell, a retired operations manager. (He was christened Mr Pothole by a local newspaper and it stuck.) “Do you know what,” he says, “I don’t mind what they call me, as long as they fix the roads.”
Morrell, now 61, contacted Northamptonshire county council about the pothole, but it didn’t do anything. He was worried – the hole was on a bend, and people were crossing into the oncoming traffic to avoid it. An accident seemed inevitable. Morrell called the police, and they expedited the repair. “The council’s attitude when you complained about potholes seemed to be ‘go away’,” he says. “I thought, ‘You don’t know what bear you’ve prodded’.”
Since that day, Morrell has been on a one-man mission to rid the country of potholes. With the help of social media – his children showed him how to use it – he started campaigning for road repairs in his area, lobbying councillors and giving interviews to the press. It snowballed, and soon people from across the country began contacting him about the state of their roads. He advises drivers on how to claim compensation for damage to their cars.
Some of these potholes were closer to craters. The worst he’s campaigned to fill in was close to 14 metres long, in Boston, Lincolnshire.
For Morrell, potholes aren’t just a nuisance, but a menace. He’s met with families of cyclists who have been killed after being flung into oncoming traffic by a pothole. Each week, one cyclist dies or is left with life-changing injuries because of a pothole on Britain’s roads, according to a 2019 Freedom of Information request. “Those deaths are avoidable,” he says. “If the government resurfaced our roads properly, we could get rid of most potholes.”
The issue, Morrell says, is not just potholes but the maintenance of roads, bridges and pavements. Instead of tackling this backlog, the government cut £400m from the local road maintenance budget last year. “Every year the government pays lip service to fixing our roads,” he says, “but our roads are getting older, and no one is taking a long-term view of the roads that are fundamental to our country.”
When he sees a particularly cavernous pothole, he thinks: can I report this to the council, or is it so dangerous I need to call the police? Morrell is adept at using Twitter to flag potholes to local authorities. “I’ve had tremendous success in getting potholes filled all over the country without leaving my house,” he says proudly. He’s also adroit at lobbying councils for general road repairs, including tarmac resurfacing.
“It’s brilliant what he’s done,” says Sally Connery, who lives in the village of Crowfield, near Brackley. “You do have to jump up and down sometimes.” In 2016, Morrell campaigned to have the road through Crowfield resurfaced – people had been pleading for it for years. “It was atrocious,” Connery says. “Nothing had been done because we’re a tiny village.” But thanks to Morrell’s campaigning, the road got resurfaced. “We were elated,” Connery says. “Now older people can exercise on the road and kids ride their bikes up and down it.”
During his time as Mr Pothole, Morrell has driven a tank on a road as a stunt, and floated plastic ducks in potholes as part of a social media campaign. Local authority officers “get annoyed at me”, he admits. “I’m like haemorrhoids. A pain in the backside that won’t go away.” His wife is bewildered by his decade-long commitment to road maintenance. “She says I’m obsessed,” he says.” Morrell dreams of a world with no more potholes. “That would be ideal,” he says. “But in reality, we could get rid of 95% of them with proper long-term investment.”
“I’m partial to a nice brandy,” Morrell says when asked what he’d like for his treat. Team Guardian Angel provides him with three bottles of premium brandy, courtesy of Speciality Brands, Henstone Distillery and Wharf Distillery. “I like to sit in my study in the evening and have a brandy and report 40 or 50 potholes,” he tells me. “It’s a bit of a reward and it gives the council plenty of work the next day.”
Morrell’s treat not only benefits him, it seems – but all road users across the UK.
Want to nominate someone for Guardian angel? Email us – with their permission – and suggest a treat at [email protected]