Storm Eunice caused damage across the county on the 18th of February. But six days later the village of Bagber was still without power – Rachael Rowe spoke to the residents as their resilience began to wear thin.
Lambing season is in full swing in Bagber. Excited resident Melissa Arnold proudly tells me she has just been taught to birth her first lamb by neighbour Jason Read. But, when Storm Eunice hit recently, the scene in this Dorset hamlet was a different story. Bagber was without electricity for six days, causing significant challenges for the residents.
Life went dark
Bagber might be just a small rural hamlet, but losing electricity affected people in diverse
ways. There is no gas supply in the area, which meant that there were no heating or power alternatives when the power is lost. Local businesses reliant on the internet were unable to operate. Farmers lambed in the dark with no hot water or heat. Families were unable to heat food. Most of us have managed this for a few hours – but six days?
“We felt like we had been abandoned,” said Melissa, who runs a graphic sign writing company.
“All our business is conducted online. We could not get emails, new customers could not contact us. We don’t know if any new customers just never got through.”
When Melissa tried to get help from SSEN, the communication was inconsistent. “We could
not speak to a human being.
Everything was automated. Facebook Messenger sent automated messages. And they told us the power was back on… it definitely wasn’t!”
New lambs need warmth
Today, Paul Read checks newly born lambs, let out in the fields for the first time.
“They go out after a week. Any earlier, and the fox will get them.”
Although Paul shrugs off any mention of difficulty in the power outage, it was challenging for him and his brother Jason to manage the lambing, especially at night. They had head torches, but lambing can be unpredictable, and new lambs need warmth.
Jo Moss recently moved to Bagber. Her son has complex special needs and finds sudden change hard to process. Jo explained: “We had to constantly explain why nothing was working to him. If we go away, for example, he needs processing time to deal with a new situation. With the power outage, we kept being told the electricity would be back on at 11pm, and then it wasn’t. Explaining that to my son was hard.”
Leaving wasn’t an option
Although Bagber isn’t that far from Sturminster Newton, which had power, there were various reasons why the residents didn’t leave. “People have pets and livestock,” Melissa explained. “Although we did eat out on some evenings, it was hard for others. One household is a family of eight, with five children, so eating out each evening would have been really expensive.”
It was a similar situation for Jo Moss: “They suggested we stay with friends or relatives. But my nearest ones are a 60-mile round trip away. It’s not that easy.”
Local businesses were very supportive. “Dikes (Stalbridge’s independent supermarket) did a home delivery within two hours of my electricity coming back on,” said Jo, “And Thyme after Thyme were fantastic. They gave me a free cup of tea and let me charge my phone.”
But why was messaging from a utility company so inconsistent? And why did it take the intervention of the BV magazine and MP Simon Hoare to get anything fixed? The residents understand there are larger communities and that electricity can and is lost in storms. They also recognise that teams from SSEN were working flat out to restore services.
What they weren’t anticipating was the inconsistent communication and being unable to communicate with a human being. If anything could be improved to cope in a future scenario, the Bagber residents agree that communication is top of the list.
The six-day Bagber power outage would have tested tolerance levels for most of us. But it also reveals the diverse needs of people in rural areas, and why consistent communication is essential. Rural communities have businesses and vulnerable people with special needs just like anywhere else. In an age where technology has transformed how we live and work, there is still a need for accurate and consistent communication, preferably from a human being.
by: Rachael Rowe