When lockdown stopped them carrying out their usual work, the team of electricians at SELECT Member Renfrewshire Council joined the efforts to help their community by providing vulnerable households with vital supplies
The coronavirus lockdown brought non-emergency work to a standstill for many electricians across the country – but not for the team at Renfrewshire Council.
While their normal tasks were put on hold because of the strict guidelines, they joined the local authority’s huge effort to support vulnerable people across their community.
Instead of rewiring and repairs, up to 30 electricians helped put together vital support packages for people forced to stay at home and shield from the virus.
They used their vans to deliver parcels of food and other essentials to struggling individuals and families in the area.
And they even pitched by working in the kitchen – helping catering staff prepare thousands of fresh meals to support up to 2,200 households at the peak of the crisis.
The electricians were part of a team of around 85 workers from a wide variety of trades – including joiners, painters, plasterers, blacksmiths, plumbers and GMOs– who joined the incredible effort to help the community.
“It was a real team effort. People wanted to be useful and they were happy to help”
Elaine Scott, Building Services Operations Manager at Renfrewshire Council, said: “They went above and beyond. When some of them made deliveries to houses with kids they’d take a bucket of sweets in their van and would throw in a handful of them for the children. We also delivered Easter eggs to every child at Easter.
“In one house, one of our electricians put in £10 of his own money to help an elderly lady top up her electricity.
“It was a real team effort. People wanted to be useful and they were happy to play their part.”
The team also included apprentice electricians, who were particularly keen to do whatever they could to help out.
“They really got stuck in, right from the beginning to the end,” said Elaine.
“They were brilliant, they did just about anything – typifying the spirit of Renfrewshire Council staff. We had to open the school kitchens and our catering team had limited staff so our guys did the grafting for them. They did whatever they had to do – opening the huge tins of beans, mixing food, packing and unpacking.
“Some of them really loved it and some have now become really good friends with the catering staff who they would never normally have met.”
At the start of the project, the team worked a range of shift patterns, seven days a week, to deliver fresh meals and other essentials through deliveries to more than 2,000 households.
Elaine said: “We also provided an out of hours service and the electricians were part of that. If someone was in crisis when the deliveries had been done for the day, then we had an emergency fridge and freezer system. The guys on call who would normally go out and do emergencies would be able to collect the bags and take it to the people if they didn’t have any other emergency work on. We never stopped. There was an emergency electrician available every night, as there is 365 days of the year.”
Organising the support project was a massive logistical task, made even trickier by the demands of physical distancing. Huge amounts of supplies had to be collected, allocated and distributed, and the scheme produced piles of packaging which had to be responsibly dealt with.
The different needs of each individual household had to be taken into account, including allergies and special diets.
Trolleys were borrowed from a local supermarket to help move the goods around and school kitchens were used to produce the thousands of meals sent out to vulnerable people.
And delivery routes were carefully worked out with GPS information to ensure the most effective way to reach all the people in need.
The skills and expertise of the electricians and the other trades meant they could adapt well to the change in their daily routine and already had the health and safety awareness that was vital to keeping everyone safe.
Elaine joked: “The biggest challenge was getting the tradesmen to tidy up their vans so there was room for the deliveries!
“They adapted really well. They helped out with whatever needed to be done and they came up with ideas about better ways to do things.
“It was a huge operation. There was so much to organise and arrange, plus we had to deal with physical distancing as well. We had to set up safety signage overnight and cone off areas so it could be one in, one out.”
As the weeks of lockdown continued, the team found ways to keep each other’s spirits up. Elaine said: “We took turns in making dinners for the guys because the catering staff were all busy preparing food for the households – I did a beef massaman curry for everyone one day. It was like a family and I got to meet so many people I wouldn’t normally get to know. It was my birthday during that time and they surprised me by singing happy birthday and giving me a cake.”
The deliveries came to an end when shielding finished and the electricians are now adjusting to getting back to work under the continuing coronavirus rules.
“We did our last delivery on 31 July,” said Elaine.
“We are now doing emergencies and small electrical works that just need one person and are single, short jobs. We can change a socket but we can’t work on rewiring or anything that takes much longer.
“We’ve got a process where the tenant phones in, we assess the job and ask if there are any issues – the usual COVID protocols to see if they have symptoms or have been in contact with anyone with it. We’ll then go out and try to fix the issue if we can.
“We’ve been working on void houses and we’re able to do more work there because you can be in a room on your own doing electrical work, so we’ve been doing a lot of work on these properties, along with minor repairs
Although the electricians are now back at work in their usual jobs, Elaine will be ready to deploy them into the community again if the shielding rules and strict lockdown are reintroduced in the future.
She said: “If everything is locked down again I’m sure we’ll be in a better place to organise it more quickly because of the lessons we’ve learned from last time.
“We’ve got the availability of workers with vans and if they can’t do their normal work then they’re available to do whatever else we need.
“We’ve had a lot of positive feedback from the residents and lots of positive vibes from the guys who were involved, saying they were going to miss it. It helped everyone to have something to do and to be useful, instead of sitting at home.
“It was a massive team effort and I’m really proud of everyone involved.”
Quick facts: Renfrewshire Council
PHONE: 0300 300 0330
Elaine Scott is Building Services Operations Manager at Renfrewshire Council