Driving resilience to help our communities strive

“My role as Customer Relationship Manager is very people-orientated - whether it’s engaging with large regional stakeholders, rural community groups or individual customers - my focus is on making sure we’re doing all we can to help our communities strive as we power the journey to net zero.”

Well, that was how this blog was supposed to start when I was working on it in November!

However, just a few days after I’d finished the first draft, the country was hit by Storm Arwen and then Storm Barra, with both weather events really driving home the importance of how we help our customers, both on an individual and a community level, with their welfare and resilience.

Over the course of those two-and-a bit weeks at the end of November and start of December, I was working with my fellow regional Customer Relationship Managers and Local Resilience Partnerships (LRP), with everyone focussing on helping those who were without power as a result of the extreme weather. 

I’ve never seen damage to our network on such a massive scale, and I was so impressed with the way everyone pulled together to help in any way they could, whether it was office-based colleagues helping teams out in the field or local cafes providing free hot food and drinks to those without power, it really hit home how strong the community spirit can be in times of crisis.

And so back to the original blog…

One of the reasons this job is so enjoyable is that there’s a real variety to the types of customers and meetings I get involved with to help our communities strive and be more resilient– on the one hand I could be engaging with dedicated local resilience groups and emergency services ahead of a weather event that may impact our network, and on the other I also speak at lunch clubs and community groups to highlight the free help and support available with our Priority Services Register (PSR).

Also, with the role of electricity playing an ever-increasing part on the road to net zero, our investment in the local infrastructure is also continuing to expand, ensuring our network can meet the demand from low carbon technologies such as heat pumps and EV chargers – and part of my role is to let the local community know if our network upgrade project will see us working on the public highway, or if we need to turn the power off for a short time to allow our engineers to complete a particular task safely. 

Before the pandemic struck in March 2020, I’d regularly be out and about meeting with individual customers and local groups across our North Caledonia region, which stretches from Aberdeen up to Elgin and as far over as the Cairngorms, and I’m also Customer Relationship Manager for the communities on Shetland. 

Since then, like most people, all of my meetings had been conducted via my laptop screen – while it’s been a great way of sharing information and keeping in contact with customers and stakeholders, I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that it’s just not the same as traditional face-to-face engagements.

As COVID restrictions began to ease, I’d noticed that diary spots for external visits and “guest speaker” invitations had also slowly begun to start up again–it’s a very different world now compared to March 2020, and lateral flow tests are an important part of my preparations, alongside making sure I have all my project information and PSR leaflets.  Update – arriving around the same time as Storms Arwen and Barra, the Omicron variant has meant that our meetings’ schedule has been re-assessed and we’ve reverted to virtual sessions once again.

One of the last events I attended pre-pandemic in February 2020 was the regional “Pow Wow” gathering of Moray’s ‘Be Active Life Long’ (BALL) groups to raise awareness of the PSR,  and so it was fitting that I attended the first meeting of a local BALL group in Burghead at the start of November.

I was made to feel really welcome by the Burghead group, and it was encouraging to meet so many people who were already signed up to the PSR, as well as explaining the benefits to those who hadn’t heard of it.

While I’ve been used to going to public meetings over the years and speaking in the community, November also saw me break my broadcasting duck with an appearance on Grampian Hospital Radio to highlight the support our PSR can offer those leaving hospital. 

As part of our “Winter Wise” campaign, we hooked up with Aberdeen Royal Infirmary to raise awareness of the free help and support we can provide, letting patients know we’re there for them after they leave hospital and adjust to life at home, potentially with electric medical equipment, mobility issues or a condition which would cause them to feel vulnerable during a power cut.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever be chasing Jo Whiley or Annie Mac for their microphones, but I enjoyed the chance to try something different; also,  by appearing on hospital radio, it really helped us reach out to a new audience and raise more awareness of the free help and support we can offer people young and old, as they leave their bed on the ward and get used to life at home again.

Epilogue

When I started this blog in November, I thought it would be a good way of giving you an insight into the types of work our team of Customer Relationship Managers do on a day-to-day level – little did I know that what followed would see me having to edit and update the whole piece all over again!

During Storm Arwen and latterly Storm Barra, my days (and quite often nights) were focussed on ensuring that any community that was without power was being looked after - this included helping to arrange hot food vans to head out to communities, working with the mobile generation teams, liaising with local groups such as the Medical and Emergency Response Team (MERT) for the Highlands or dialling into 31 Local Resilience Forum meetings to work with, and provide updates to, our local resilience partners.

After the storms passed and all our customers had their power restored, I’ve kept the momentum up and continued to work with community groups to help bolster local and personal resilience; the past few weeks have seen me attending virtual meetings with the communities of Lumphanan, Braemar and Ballater, explaining how our Resilient Communities Fund can support any plans they may have to ensure their towns and villages are better able to cope,  should a storm or bad weather cause their power to go off for a prolonged time.

If you’d like to know more about our Priority Services Register or think that someone you know could benefit from extra help if their power is off, click here to learn more.

And if you’re part of a community group or local organisation interested in learning more about our Resilient Communities Fund ahead of the next round of applications opening later this month, please click here.

The photo above shows Shona (back row, on the right) at the Burghead BALL Group prior to Storm Arwen; the image on the front page shows a member of the MERT team delivering one of SSEN's resilience bags to a customer in Aberdeenshire during Storm Arwen.

About the author

Van on rural road

Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks

We're responsible for maintaining the electricity networks supplying over 3.8 million homes and businesses across central southern England and north of the Central Belt of Scotland. We own one electricity transmission network and two electricity distribution networks, comprising 106,000 substations and 130,000 km of overhead lines and underground cables across one third of the UK. Our first priority is to provide a safe and reliable supply of electricity to the communities we serve in Scotland and England.

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