Council staff recognised for efforts during ‘Beast From the East’

From trekking through the snow in order to deliver medication to rescuing animals stranded high in the Dales, council staff across County Durham went the extra mile to help out during the bad weather.

The prolonged snowfall and high winds experienced last week made it difficult for many people but workers at Durham County Council have been demonstrating their commitment by going above and beyond the call of duty.

Steven Biggs and Stephen Hill were operating a snow blower in Harwood in Teesdale when they spotted two ewes that had become buried in the snow.

The pair dug out the animals, which they believe may have been pregnant, and moved them to safety before carrying on with their work.

Steve Biggs, who along with his colleague has been working around the clock to keep the county’s rural roads moving, said: “All you could see was their heads. Judging by the amount of snow they were under, they must have sat down to keep warm and they looked like they had been there a while because their legs seemed to be seized up.

“It only took about five or 10 minutes to free them because the snow was quite loose but it was too packed in for them to move.

“I think it was probably just as well that we got them out when we did as it wouldn’t have been that much longer before they were fully covered.

“It’s not something I’ve done before but I’d do it again if I had to. You can’t let animals suffer.”

Support worker Lisa Quinn normally works at the council’s Pathways day service in Stanley but, along with some of her colleagues, volunteered to help out the council’s supported housing team when the day centre had to shut because of the bad weather.

Lisa has walked miles over the course of the past few days, often in blizzard conditions, visiting the homes of older and vulnerable residents in the north of the county in order to deliver medication and shopping and ensure they have a hot meal.

She even cancelled her day off to help out and has been calling on day centre users in her own time to check they are well and have enough provisions.

She said: “The weather has been terrible at times but I would rather be helping someone than sitting in the house doing nothing.”

Staff in the supported housing team have also been working extended hours with one worker sleeping over every night since Saturday.

Senior manager Phil Emberson also took a break from his normal duties to help out using his Land Rover to collect medication for a 93-year-old resident and deliver it to her home in the Consett area.

He said: “I was more than happy to help out but what I did is nothing compared to what staff on the frontline have been doing over the past three days. There have been so many stories of workers going beyond the expectations of their roles and battling through extreme conditions to make sure our residents are safe, warm and comfortable. I can’t stress my admiration enough.”

The Civil Contingencies Unit enlisted the help of Adam Dixon, Durham County Council countryside ranger, to transport Mary Orr from her home in Blackhill, Consett to the University Hospital of Durham this morning for a vital appointment.

“When I saw the weather I thought I was never going to make it for my treatment – I was very worried,” she said.

“It’s great to know that there are services out there willing to help in situations like this, it really makes a big difference for people like me.”

The team also came to the rescue of a resident who has diabetes and had run out of food but had no-one living nearby who was able to help. They contacted Tesco who donated a food parcel which they delivered.

Durham County Council-run Selby Cottage Childcare had to close on Wednesday and Thursday due to the bad weather but opened today with a skeleton staff. They made a priority of contacting those parents who work for the NHS and other emergency and care services to ensure they knew that childcare provision was available.

Kath Shields, childcare manager at Selby Cottage Childcare Centre, said: “We made the decision to re-open this morning and contacted those parents who work in the NHS and other care services to make sure they had provision for their children as we know how important it is for them to get to work.

“Although we weren’t needed by any parents, the team and their partners set out clearing the whole site to make sure we are accessible for everyone on Monday morning – they really are snow angels.”

Neighbourhood wardens have been out in communities across the county since Tuesday checking on older and vulnerable residents. In Stanley, they helped a pensioner who was on her own and had no electricity, topping up her meter and also clearing snow from her pathway.

Bereavement coordinator Tony Johnston has been getting up at 4am to clear paths at Durham Crematorium so that funerals could go ahead this week. Many of his colleagues at Durham and the council’s Mountsett Crematorium have been walking to work to ensure services continue.

Staff in many services will continue their work to keep residents safe and well over the weekend but members of the public are also being asked to do their bit by checking on friends, neighbours and relatives.

Amanda Healy, the council’s Director of Public Health, said: “When the temperature drops, people are at increased risk of a wide range of conditions including flu, pneumonia and hypothermia, with young children, older people and those who are disabled or have a long-term condition most at risk.

“It is, therefore, extremely important that people take extra care of themselves during the type of weather we are currently experiencing.

“We would advise people to ensure their home is warm, they have at least one hot meal a day, regular hot drinks and keep active. If possible, it is always best to stay at home during very cold weather.

“We would also ask people to check on neighbours and relatives to make sure they are safe and well, are warm enough and have plenty of food and any medications.

“The work our staff have been doing across the county is a fantastic example of people going the extra mile to make sure others are safe and well.”