Ten years? Wow, how did that happen?!?! Where did the time go and how changed my ID picture looks from when I commenced work…
Do I enjoy my job? Truth is when I applied to be an ‘Energy Champion’ - as our title was then - I had little idea of what it might all entail. I come from a farming background, married into it and had four children and now granny to seven grandchildren. My original skills saw me managing large scale kitchens until motherhood took over. While at home I did drive the occasional tractor, tend the green house, sit on school committees and parent groups, become elder at my church, organised agricultural training courses and made wedding cakes to order. In the late eighties we bought our first computer, floppy discs, and all. Skills learnt and children away to college, I went out to work and for some time worked with a design agency then saw the advert for this job, which took my interest, the rest is history.
Boilers, programmers, heating systems, renewable energy, grants available (as there were in the beginning) was a lot to learn about. We had no previous experience and learned a lot from our City and Guilds coaches. It was a lot to take in but somehow with team help right from the beginning we passed our exams.
We had no clients, little money, no ideas of where we should begin except the knowledge that whatever we do had to impact on a person’s control of their own Carbon Footprint.
We began by knocking doors in St Andrews and introducing ourselves to our catchment area and from there it began and we grew steadily to becoming a charity & are now also part of Cosy Kingdom.
My main interest within our Charity has been advising clients on saving energy but have also really enjoyed working with children in schools, covering events in colleges and talking to groups and promoting StAndEN at local events. The charity started up an annual Reuse event where basically you brought along good items no longer required and if you saw something you could make use of you took it home. No money involved, only if you wished you could make a donation to our charity. For at least ten years we have been involved with University students, collecting reusable items when they leave University. The items are then re-allocated to new students or to people within the community who need them.
I really enjoy my job, I meet such a variety of people from all backgrounds, nationalities and lifestyles. All with the same common denominator; to help reduce their energy costs. This can be through advising about what things they need to look at in the home. It always amazes me how simple draughts can be overlooked by persons living in their own homes, requiring us to point this out to them.
I love when we are able to have a new heating system installed for a client or have the pleasure of telling a client they qualify for our free handyman services. Clients who qualify for other types of help are often unaware of what is out there to help them and where I am able to advise, or fill in an application form, is a great feel-good factor of my job.
I have seldom met any client who has not picked up some kind of advice we have offered and acted on at some point. This can be from taking better control of their energy bills, understanding how to read them, learning how to switch suppliers, keep an eye on temperature control and programmers, understanding tariffs and exit fees, help and support from referral agencies. Our discretionary fund also comes as a great life saver for many a client who may be struggling.
I don’t believe anyone enjoys having to call an energy supplier; so many buttons to press, so long on hold & then having to explain whatever the issue is to – frequently – multiple different people on the other end of the phone. Believe me, the same thing can happen to us but, with experience gained over time, we know when making a call on the client’s behalf is the best course of action. Fuel debt can be – and is – very worrying for anyone who experiences it. Once we have all of the information, we can help the client set up repayment plans, or even apply for funding to help with paying it.
I am lucky to be working with such a lovely team of people within St Andrews Environmental Network (StAndEN) and Cosy Kingdom who all have our clients’ best interests at heart. Few jobs out there give clients a feel-good factor about what you do but this one does and proud I am to be part of the team!
I can’t quite believe that I have been part of the St Andrews Environmental Network (StAndEN) for ten years. At the time I joined the team I was working as an adviser for international development and humanitarian organisations including Save the Children and WaterAid. That work took me to many countries in Europe, Asia and Africa and because of all the flights my carbon footprint was huge. So was my level of guilt at my personal contribution to climate change. In 2010 when I heard that a project was being set up in St Andrews to help local communities save energy and reduce their carbon footprint I was very keen to get involved. I was lucky enough to be offered that opportunity and became part of the StAndEN team.
My work at StAndEN started very part-time because of my other work commitments - I could only squeeze in a few days of work a month as an energy adviser. Even that limited amount of time opened my eyes to the possibilities that making small changes can have when they are all added together. Although most of my early work involved providing advice, the project also did some practical things like fitting TV powerdowns, radiator reflector panels and low energy lightbulbs. In those early days I could be seen cycling around St Andrews with a bike trailer full of tools and energy-saving devices. It was definitely the practical side of the work that I enjoyed most so I jumped at the chance to become StAndEN’s first handyman as part of the newly started Cosy Kingdom project.
Now that I am retired from my work in international development (thereby hugely reducing my carbon footprint) I am able to put much more time into StAndEN as the project handyman. These days we cover half of Fife and install a wider range of practical energy saving measures including low energy light bulbs, radiator reflectors, chimney balloons, draught-proofing and thermal curtains. The handyman work keeps me (and my colleague Gavin Brady) very busy but I also really enjoy staffing our stall at some of the community events we support.
As I walk, cycle and drive around the communities in our patch it gives me a great sense of satisfaction to think of all the individuals and families who have benefited from the project’s work. I have lost count of the number of pairs of thermal curtains I have installed (so many that I went through a time of dreaming about fitting curtains!) but I still feel really chuffed when I meet people in the street who pass on their thanks for the work we have done – especially the one who said “Oh hi, you’re the curtain guy, aren’t you?!”
As part of our 10 year anniversary celebration we, the staff at StAndEN, thought we’d like to individually look back on our time with the charity and talk about our memories. Now admittedly I have only been with StAndEN for a mere five years (a relative newbie compared with the majority of my colleagues) but I still feel a strong sense of ownership and privilege looking at how far the charity has come in the last ten years.
My own journey with StAndEN started in 2015 after spending four years working solely in the creative industries. In my life before the charity I wore many hats- musician, producer, broadcaster- maybe not the CV you’d expect from a humble handyman. One of the strangest things used to be going into someone’s property and for them to say that they had seen me perform. Most notably, I did extensive work in someone’s house that then recognised me and took me into their own home studio and ask my opinion on some songs they were writing. Actually, come to think of it, I’m still waiting for my royalties cheque…
Initially I was brought into the charity working as a handyman, installing energy saving measures for people struggling with their fuel bills. The work was always varied, I could be installing thermal curtains all day then the next I’d be crawling around an attic looking at insulation. One of my most memorable encounters was during my initial training with my mentor/colleague/friend Bruce Britton. We’d been called out to a client to install some thermal curtains. When we arrived we were greeted by two lovely elderly ladies- who as it turned out were sisters. One must remember that I was green; this was my first day on the job so I was assuming this day would be a fair representation of what was to come. So we set about installing the curtains, Bruce very patiently explaining how to install rails and why Swish Sologlyde rails were superior to other manufacturers. I distinctly remember being cheeky and asking him ‘are you on commission from Swish?’ I can’t remember his answer- or maybe he thumped me so hard it affected my memory! Nevertheless we installed all the energy saving measures without incident before the client asked us into the kitchen. Now, when you work in properties more often than not you will be asked if you’d like a drink. If you’re lucky you may be offered a biscuit too! Well, this client had put out a spread of sweet treats on the table- cake, juice, biscuits. I could get used to this, I thought smugly. After a nice chat with the clients we packed our things and exited the property. The door had barely closed behind us, Bruce turned to me and said, ‘that NEVER happens’. I was too busy brushing the lemon drizzle crumbs out of my beard to respond.
A few days later, after Bruce had imparted all his wisdom to me, I had my first client on my own. I was filled with a mixture of nerves and excitement. I don’t think I ate all my breakfast- maybe I was leaving space for all the cake and biscuits I was definitely going to be plied with later that morning. I arrived at the property and timidly rang the doorbell. I waited and waited. Finally someone answered the door and beckoned me in whilst shouting at someone else in the house. I brought in my tools and the all-important curtains. As soon my toolbox hit the ground the shouting then became very much aimed at me. I was told bluntly that the colour of the curtains was not right as the client had decided they were going to redecorate in the future. I didn’t get any tea at that particular house.
That’s the thing with this job; everything varies from day-to-day, job-to-job. I’ve work in mansions and scatterflats. I’ve supported professors and the recently homeless. This job has allowed me to realise that anybody can struggle regardless of job, title or postcode. I’m very proud of all the work that the charity and my colleagues continue to do assisting and supporting the local community. I’m also thankful for all the support that the charity has given me over the past five years.
Since 2015 I’ve been supported through numerous qualifications and have taken on many more roles. My beloved handy service was completely overhauled to make it paperless and to streamline the service- that sounds easy but trust me it wasn’t. In more recent years I’ve been given more responsibilities, ultimately managing the delivery of several area based projects again working on the frontline of fuel poverty. Meanwhile as the charity’s project portfolio has grown I have had a unique position straddling several projects from Cosy Kingdom, StAndREUSE, Clean and Green and CCF Schools project. Of course I am biased, but I couldn’t imagine what would happen if the charity and services were no longer available. Over the past five years I’ve witnessed a huge demand for support regarding fuel poverty and equally a rise in demand for climate change action. I would hazard a guess that demands are only going to increase in the future and with exciting new projects on the horizon I’d definitely watch this space.