During the coronavirus outbreak, the utilities sector occupies an even more vital role than ever, providing lifeline services and enabling people to work, communicate, eat and drink through the lockdown.

Staff across the sector are working around the clock to ensure the lights stay on and the water and gas keeps flowing.

The focus of the country’s gratitude is quite rightly on the NHS workers and their tireless work to save lives in the most difficult circumstances. But utilities staff are among the backbone of key workers that will get the country through this ordeal – and they also deserve our gratitude.

At Utility Week we want to celebrate an industry going above and beyond day-to-day roles in the face of huge pressure and constant change.

This is why we are launching Keeping Us Connected, a new series in which we shine a light on the dedication of this sector to overcome all obstacles to deliver for the country.

From street workers presenting the public face of the industry as they go about their vital work, to control room staff juggling unpredictable demand, call centre workers handling complex and delicate discussions with customers, operational staff supporting power and water supplies to hospitals and other emergency facilities and engineers providing support and a friendly face to locked down households in need of help. We salute them all.

As part of Keeping Us Connected we will highlight the hidden heroes, with profiles of individuals and teams who have gone above and beyond in the current crisis.

We are asking senior figures across utilities to nominate individuals or teams within their organisations who have had to adapt their ways of working to mitigate the impact of coronavirus. We want to both publicly recognise their dedication to delivering lifeline services and also highlight best practice.

To make a nomination please email jameswallin@fav-house.com  with details of the individual or team, the reason you are nominating them and a picture of them. We would either like a quote from them or the chance to interview them.

Reconnecting

We will also be examining how companies are adapting to new responsibilities and taking the initiative to extend support – both operational and financial – where it is needed most. We will be asking the question as to how these initiatives will shape the sector’s relationship with the public in the long term.

Although the pandemic has had undeniably tragic consequences there are also opportunities for positive outcomes. In the case of utilities, this is a chance to redefine the relationship with customers, to step outside of the comfort blanket of regulatory obligations and make decisions because they are the right thing to do. The actions of utilities during this crisis will be remembered – for better or for worse. The right approach has the potential to help rebalance and bring the real nature of service back to the forefront for customers.

Taking the message to Westminster

The stories we have shared and the best practice identified will be used to prepare a case to government that there should be some official recognition of the role utilities played during the lockdown.

There has already been a positive step in this direction, with utilities staff given priority access to coronavirus testing to ensure that staff shortages do not hinder the delivery of lifeline services.

In the meantime, the stories that make up Keeping Us Connected – a picture of true key workers – will be collated here.