Progress Housing Group Technical Service Engineers, Mark Dewhurst and Leonard Webb, undertake the Group's compliance PAT testing up and down the country.

Over the last few weeks, they’ve continued to deliver essential services to some of our most vulnerable customers including those in supported living, and have come up with innovative solutions to COVID-19-related problems they've encountered, such as using a travel-fridge to help them get through their long journeys and stop-overs!

We caught up with Mark and Leonard who told us some stories about delivering their frontline work and what it's like being on the road during COVID-19.

Hi Mark and Leonard! What are the main tasks involved in your roles?

M: We're responsible for the PAT testing and fire extinguisher servicing programme for all of the Group stock. This includes all 1300+ Supported Living properties across the whole of the UK including areas such as Devon, Portsmouth, Norfolk, the Midlands, Yorkshire and as far north as Scotland and the North East. We also serve our independent living properties, Progress Living in Lincolnshire and all our office buildings, as well as checking fire alarms and water temperatures in many properties.

Are your duties currently classed as essential services?

L: Yes. The nature of our work is compliance-related and therefore must continue at present.

How have your duties changed as a result of COVID-19?

M: Our duties and tasks as yet haven't really changed but we're certainly having to do things differently and adapt!

Why are your tasks classed as emergency or essential – what are the risks if they don’t get done?

Mark And Leonard 3 Mark In Van Cropped PrtraitM: Most of our tasks are based around fire prevention and safety. PAT testing identifies potential faults with appliances that may be the cause of a fire. We do occasionally find issues that if left undetected would, without a doubt, have caused a fire or an electric shock.

We also check that fire alarm systems and fire fighting equipment are working correctly.

How have you adapted to the 'new normal' working environment?

L: We're now working completely independently, whereas previously we would pair up, certainly on longer journeys.

M: Properties aren't as keen to accept workers. Fewer hotels are remaining open which is posing a huge problem for us when we're working out of area. Restaurants are also closed.

L: We're having to clean and sanitize ourselves and the equipment in between appointments.

M: We're adhering to all the guidance and assess each property on a case by case basis to determine the safest way to undertake the work. At the doorstep of every property prior to entering, we confirm if anyone has a confirmed case or symptoms of COVID-19. Social distancing is applied throughout the day, every day, and we're using PPE as required.

My partner won't let me in the house at the end of the day until I've stripped off in the porch, put my clothes in a black bag, and streaked through the house to put them straight into the washing machine! Haha!

What kind of feedback are you getting from tenants when you need access to a property?

M: Overall the tenants that we visit are understanding about the situation. There are some that are understandably hesitant about us visiting but once we've taken the time to work through any concerns and worked out how best to do the work whilst adhering to current guidelines, most tenants are fine.

Can you give us an example of any COVID-19-related problems you’ve encountered and what kind of solutions have you come up with to enable you to continue to deliver essential services around the country?

Mark And Leonard 4 Leo CroppedL: The first problem we were faced with was that the restaurants and takeaways began to close!

M: To combat this we now purchase supplies before we go and self-cater using a travel fridge and microwave! The hotels themselves have mostly closed apart from a small number remaining open for key workers so we're having to chop and change where we stay over. If these close we've already spoken to management about getting a camper van! We've learnt to plan ahead and pre-empt things.

L: Our main supplier of fire extinguishers can't supply us at present so we've found and set up with an alternative supplier.

If you could give your colleagues at the Group, who are also delivering essential services out in the field, any words of advice about adapting to our 'new normal' under COVID-19, what would you say?

M: I always try to make the most of anything. I think Leonard and I work well as a team and every day we find something to laugh about!

We keep in touch throughout the day and chat with each other about whatever is on our minds which certainly helps. We've got to do our best, keep things in perspective and be realistic. I stopped listening to the radio in the van too much as the news bulletins can remind us how bad things are. I tend to just listen to some of my cheesy playlists!

The best advice I could offer to colleages working out in the field delivering essential services during COVID-19 would be to talk to people. Everything starts with a conversation. We certainly couldn't be carrying on as we are without the assistance we've had from our managers, housing officers and the health & safety team.

If you are due an essential or emergency visit from one of our Progress Housing Group property services employees, the following video will tell you what you can expect from our visit during COVID-19. Watch the video here.