With people across the country spending more time at home in the glorious May sunshine demand for water is at an all-time high.

 Although water is available in our boreholes and key reservoirs, customers are using it at a faster rate than we can pump it to homes – meaning our teams are working harder than ever to keep taps flowing.

Here, Duty Control Managers Darren and Barry share an insight into life in our busy 24 hour control room.

“I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who’s making an effort to save water. Even small changes like not washing the car or watering the lawn can make a big difference.”

Darren Fawcett

Barry Murphy

Can you tell us about your role at South East Water?

Darren: I’ve been at South East Water for nearly 31 years now. I work as a duty control manager which involves being part of a team that monitors and remotely controls our Water Treatment Works, Boosters and Reservoirs. It’s a crucial job as we need to make sure we can supply water to our customers 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Barry: I’m also a duty control manager and have been at the company for five years now, with over 30 years of experience in the water industry in total. We do 12 hour shifts within the team, so I work on a different pattern to Darren. My role is the same however and involves managing the 24 hour central control room for South East Water. This means being responsible for customer supplies and all business activities outside of normal hours. I’m also the first point of contact for external agencies such as the emergency services and help to manage problems such as burst water mains.

Why are we seeing such a huge demand on our network at the moment?

Darren: At the moment we’re seeing huge demands due to a combination of hot weather across our region and the fact more people are at home due to the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s also been an extremely dry month, with hardly any rainfall forecast for the rest of May. Lots of people are also taking more of an interest in gardening, meaning they’re using more water than they might have done before. Although we still have enough water in our boreholes and reservoirs, our network is working overtime to pump supplies out to homes.  

Barry: I’d like to say there’s a single cause, or a simple answer, but there are several factors. Warm/dry temperatures coupled with more people at home during the pandemic, means customers are using water more water than they would normally. I read a comment piece in a newspaper saying our request for people to use a little less water was outrageous because “water just falls from the sky” – that’s where people get confused. When we can resume normal life I’d recommend they join one of our tours of a water treatment works – quality water that you can drink doesn’t just fall from the sky and it takes a huge amount of energy to treat and pump it around 9,000 miles of pipes. There’s much more happening behind the scenes than some people realise when they turn on the tap.

Demand for water has rocketed due to the hot weather and COVID-19 outbreak

What are our teams doing to help?

Darren: I think our teams are doing a great job in challenging circumstances. From control room staff, our customer technical centre, customer services, technicians and all the volunteers –we’ve all pulled together to try and meet the challenge of keeping our customers supplied during this period of high demand and the pandemic.

Barry: Everyone is doing what they can in these unusual times to provide a consistent, top level service to our customers. This ranges from providing assistance via volunteer work and offers of help outside of working hours – to providing new ideas/suggestion on how to better serve our customers in this very strange period. Making sure we provide a constant supply of water is even more important when fighting the virus, especially as we supply many hospitals and care homes. It’s a huge responsibility as we are helping to support many frontline workers.

How can customers help?

Darren: I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who’s making an effort to save water. It’s really important that we all continue to wash our hands regularly and keep hygiene standards high during the outbreak. However, small changes like not washing the car or watering the lawn can make a big difference.

Barry: People can help in many ways. Even small changes and water saving techniques can provide great results. It would be really fantastic if everyone could do just one little extra thing to save water. We know how frustrating it can be to turn on the tap and have low pressure or no water. That’s why our teams all work extremely hard to get supply issues resolved as quickly as possible, and I think our customer service boys and gals who answer the phones are doing their absolute very best. Anything customers can do to help in these difficult times would be amazing.

How does it feel to know you are a key worker and have an important part to play in keeping the country going during these difficult times?

Darren: Being a key worker during these difficult times carries a good amount of responsibility with it. Sometimes that’s a little daunting, but teaming up with other departments and keeping the water flowing gives me the satisfaction that I’m helping to do my bit.

Barry: I feel very proud to be a key worker and to contribute in a small way to help keep water flowing in this (hopefully) once in a generation scenario we find ourselves in. I take my hat off to all the key workers, both here and around the nation. However, if Her Majesty is reading this, then I have always thought the letter “OBE” after my name had a certain ring to it ;).

“Although we still have enough water in our boreholes and reservoirs, our network is working overtime to pump supplies out to homes.”


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