Five electricity workers who together have given 200 years’ service to keeping the lights on across Sussex have had their long service recognised by their company

Allen Aldridge, a senior project manager, Les Berry, network manager in the control centre, Graham Willard, a first responder at the scene of power cuts, Duncan Grover, a network maps technician and Dick Milton, operational policy engineer, all joined the company as teenagers in 1977. All are now experts in their fields, known for their dedication and experience.

UK Power Networks, which delivers electricity supplies across the South East, London and East Anglia, rewards staff who have given 40 years of continuous service at a special 40+ Club celebration in London where they received an award from Chief Executive, Basil Scarsella. This year 18 staff across the South East and London marked their 40th anniversary in the business.

Les Berry, who is 55, from Burgess Hill, trained as an overhead linesman and is now the network manager for the company’s control centre, which he likens to being ‘an air traffic controller for electricity supplies’. His role involves remotely controlling the electricity network up to 132,000 volts, restoring supplies quickly after power cuts and maintaining the resilience of the network.

He said: “My most memorable job was the 1987 hurricane, when I was working on standby as a linesman. It had rained solidly for three weeks and because the ground was saturated the storm uprooted the trees and there was extensive damage. I had just got married and I didn’t see my wife for two and a half weeks. The winds steadily got stronger and we kept moving from one job to another, restoring supplies. At 2.30am they sent us home for our own safety. I remember the winds blowing my Land Rover from one side of the road to the other on Shoreham flyover.

“If you have got the ability and want to work hard you will have the opportunity to make a good career out of this industry. People are always going to need electricity and will always need someone to go out and fix it, so if you have the ability and perform well it is a job for life.”

Allen Aldridge, who is 56, from Worthing, is a senior project manager. He joined the company as an apprentice linesmen before moving into roles fixing domestic electrical appliances, designing electricity connections, becoming a project supervisor, working in IT and network planning.

Allen said: “It doesn’t feel like I have been here for 40 years, it feels like I started work last week! Les, Dick and I all started together as apprentice linesmen training in Dover. I stopped being a linesmen in 1986, a year before the 1987 hurricane. A day after the great storm my old foreman came to see me and asked if I would assist as a linesman again. He gave me my old kit back, as I had left it a year before and it was untouched and ready to use! It was pure devastation and wherever you looked the network was on the deck. I remember that we worked long hours, went home to sleep and started over again the next day.

“With so much diversity in the roles within the company I was lucky to be able to change jobs and activities throughout my career, increasing my knowledge and progressing from a linesman through to a senior project manager over the years.”

Allen’s first pay packet was £11 per week and £6 of the money went to his landlady. “In those days it was a lot of money. You were in the big time if you were taking home £5 a week!” he said.

Duncan Grover, who is 56, also from Worthing, is a network maps technician, responsible for recording cables, power lines and substations on the company’s mapping systems in the South East. He joined the company’s drawing office in 1977 as a trainee draughtsman.

He said: “We keep the company’s electrical records updated. Our engineers need to know where the cables are to carry out repairs and third parties need them to avoid hitting our cables. When I started work we didn’t have photocopiers, computers or the internet. We drew the plans in ink on plastic negatives and if you made a mistake you started again. It’s a lot easier today.

“I enjoyed working in the aftermath of the hurricane in 1987. It was a busy time and I was driving all over the South East supporting our engineers with the storm recovery.”

Graham Willard, who is 56, from Brighton, works as a first responder at the scene of power cuts. He joined the company as an apprentice electrician, fixing and maintaining electrical appliances, such as microwaves and fridges before training as an electricity cable jointer.

Graham said: “I work in the first response teams responding to emergency calls and restoring electricity supplies after power cuts on the high voltage electricity network. It’s basically still the same secure job at the moment so I would recommend it to others. I have worked with some of the same people for the last 40 years. My first pay packet was £11 and I had to pay £6 to the landlady so I had a fiver left each week.”

Dick Milton, who is 56, from Crawley, works in the company’s safety team, specialising in operational safety on overhead power lines. He chairs the national live working committee for the Energy Networks Association.

He joined the company as an apprentice linesman and progressed to being an instructor. Dick said: “I turned up at my interview soaking wet on my moped, dripping over the manager’s floor. He said ‘I see you have applied to become an electrician, but you work on a farm and I think you would make a good linesman’. It was fate because I absolutely loved the job and put my heart and soul into it. I knuckled down and became linesman of the year in 1982!

“An opportunity came along to teach other people the skills and I loved that too, then someone gave me a management opportunity I couldn’t refuse. Anybody who wants a good, solid career, where you are looked after and have many opportunities should come and join this industry. It’s an exciting place to work.”

One of the highlights of Dick’s career was working as an overhead lines observer travelling by helicopter, surveying overhead power lines for damage from the air after storms. He said: “It sounds exciting, buzzing about in a helicopter but it’s taxing on the mind and requires intense concentration.”

As part of the industry’s mutual aid arrangement after major storms he has also used his skills to help repair overhead power lines for other companies in the Isle of Wight and in Derbyshire.

Basil Scarsella, chief executive at UK Power Networks, said: “Every year we recognise employees that have been with our business for 40 years or more. It’s part of being an employer of choice and doing the right thing by employees who have served us for a long time. It’s one of the evenings I particularly look forward to because I catch up with individuals that have been with us a long time.”

Back to the Year 1977:

Red Rum’s third Grand National win

Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations

Ford Fiesta went on sale

Roy Jenkins became president of the European commission

Punk was in its prime and the Sex Pistols album topped the charts

Star Wars was screened in British cinemas for the first time

Prime Minister James Callaghan opens the M5 motorway

The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show attracted 28 million viewers