‘We’re in survival mode’: equestrian business vows to keep going despite Storm Arwen power cuts

  • Owners of family-run business Westgate Labs are among those waiting to have power restored a week after Storm Arwen, which left almost one million households in the dark.

    Last Friday (26 November) Storm Arwen hit the UK as the Met Office issued a red weather warning in northeast Scotland and England. Gusts of 98mph were recorded and homes and businesses across England, Scotland and Wales lost power.

    Westgate Labs, a parasite control company that operates from a family farm in rural Northumberland, lost power on Friday evening and has been trying to continue to operate with the use of a generator donated by a local customer. Westgate director Claire Shand and her parents Jill and Dave, who are in their late 60s, live on site along with six horses, dogs, cats and chickens, and have been without heating and hot water. Damage was also caused to the lab’s roof and a field shelter was blown over a hedge and landed in a riding arena.

    Claire told H&H the lab’s team of 11 has been working together to keep service as “close to normal as possible“ and allow samples to continue to be tested. Staff who have power at home have been helping with administration and taking calls.

    “It has been a real struggle but we’ve been trying to work around it to keep testing samples as a priority. The trouble is as we’re a postal business we can’t just turn it off, samples keep arriving and we have a limited time to test them,” said Claire.

    “We have to look after our customers. If we stop testing we face a much bigger admin problem of having to let customers know, sending out new sample pots and having to ask for fresh samples to be sent in. As our franking machine relies on internet connection we’re also having issues with posting things out.”

    Claire, who has had to move into a friend’s home owing to an existing health condition being aggravated by the cold, said the team has coped “amazingly” despite the challenges.

    “It’s chilly processing samples and everything takes a lot longer. We only have one generator that is stable enough to support the technology and you have the challenge of having to move it around to where it’s needed and keep it filled with fuel, and you can’t get hold of any more generators for love nor money,” she said.

    “A local church has kindly provided gas heaters and we’ve been using a camping stove for hot drinks. You just have to keep going for the team and do what you need to do. We’re in survival mode now.”

    In the latest update provided to Claire from Northern Powergrid, the electricity distribution network operator for the northeast, Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire, at midnight today (3 December) the power is expected to be restored on 8 December.

    “The communication from Northern Powergrid has been appalling and you spend hours on hold on the phone. It took until Sunday (28 November) to get through to first report the fault and we still have a live wire lying on the ground in our riding arena. At first we were told the power would be back on Tuesday, then Wednesday, then Friday and now next Wednesday but they can’t give you any reassurance,” she said.

    “They say you can book a hotel but it’s not as simple as that when you have animals and when they keep changing the goalposts it’s very difficult to make plans. If they just said it will be a few weeks we could review things or look at whether we could go to another premises. We explained we’re trying to run a veterinary testing business that supports 11 members of staff but they don’t seem to be thinking about businesses.”

    In an update at 11pm yesterday (2 December) Northern Powergrid said power had been restored for 234,000 customers, while 6,000 remain off supply.

    “We understand how critical this situation is for our customers and we’re working as fast as we can to deal with a storm impact which is one of the worst that our team has seen. Our dedicated teams will not stop until we have everyone affected by the storm back on supply,” said Northern Powergrid executive director Paul Glendinning.

    On 1 December the UK Government said more than 935,000 households had had power restored, representing 97% of households affected and it was the Government’s “top priority” to work with electricity operators to ensure those still without power, particularly in remote areas, are reconnected as quickly as possible.

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