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"I really did feel forgotten about": A disabled resident's experience of the Stannington gas outage

Nearly two weeks after a burst water main flooded a gas pipe in Stannington, Now Then asks whether disabled residents were properly supported.

A long-distance view of a hill with lots of housing and three tall blocks of flats

Stannington seen from Crookes

Neil Theasby

It’s been 13 days since a burst water main flooded gas pipes, cutting off the gas supply to around 1,200 homes in Stannington and parts of the surrounding area. While most properties have now been reconnected to the essential supplies, some people are still without heat and hot water in their homes. And, as domestic properties have been prioritised, there are also businesses in the area that have been cut off.

The particular needs of disabled people are often overlooked in disaster planning. When there’s no gas and you can’t regulate your body temperature, what do you do? When you are being advised to limit your electricity usage but you need to charge your powerchair, or rely on breathing equipment, what do you do? When you are diabetic and your gas cooker is spraying water across the kitchen, what do you do?

Kathryn Bartrop lives in Stannington. Initially she thought that her gas boiler had broken. It was only when she went to the local pub that friends told her that the whole area had no heating or hot water.

“I don’t really listen to the news. I didn’t know that we were famous!” she tells Now Then.

This lack of available information was unfortunately representative of her experience of this disaster, making it more difficult to cope. Like many disabled people who are digitally excluded, Kathryn is not online and relied on the community to keep her informed and offer support. Without the internet, she could not access the updates others were getting from the companies involved. She tells me she had no idea who to contact to get help.

Kathryn had to stay in bed to keep warm when the gas was off. Whenever somebody knocked on the door, by the time she had transferred to her wheelchair and answered, they had gone.

She also discovered, amid it all, that she somehow wasn’t on the Priority Services Register, which meant services that should have been targeted at her needs were not reaching her. She wishes her doctors had phoned to check she was ok, knowing that she was a vulnerable patient.

A view of distant houses with a coating of snow

Stannington in the snow

Martin Speck

The number of parties involved in addressing the outage added to the confusion around how to access help and support. Is Yorkshire Water, whose water main it was, responsible? Or is it Cadent, the gas network? Perhaps it’s Northern Powergen, the electricity network asking people to limit their electricity usage to avoid surges? Should support come from the companies directly? Or is that the responsibility of MP, Olivia Blake? Or Sheffield City Council?

It's hard enough to answer those questions with a full suite of websites in front of me. Doing it based on snippets of conversation in the Peacock pub – which mercifully stayed open and where Kathryn got a lot of her information – is virtually impossible.

The answer is that, to some degree, these parties each had roles and responsibilities in managing the crisis, but not making that clear – especially to people who are not online – has made the situation in Stannington more difficult to deal with.

Getting food was also a struggle. While food vans were provided for residents whose gas cookers were unusable, and to limit electricity use in the area, Kathryn reports that these only arrived after a week “and you had to queue for up to an hour”. She also says that the fare of burger and chips – “like when you have a night out” – was not ideal.

“I could have been a bit more grateful, but […] I felt like saying to them look, I’m diabetic. I don’t eat this sort of food.”

As well as being given an electric radiator, Kathryn was provided with an electric ring to cook on, and a seat warmer, all of which helped.

MP for the area Olivia Blake has been liaising with the companies involved to ensure that fair compensation is received by the residents affected by the crisis, but Kathryn has concerns about how to get hold of this. She doesn’t know how to claim and she is concerned that it will go to the power companies towards future bills, rather than to residents directly.

“How do I claim my compensation without looking stupid? If the form is online, what’s going to happen?”

Ultimately, Kathryn tells me that she “felt forgotten about”. Even her GP surgery had to close, leaving her with officials who didn’t wait for long enough at the door, no Twitter to check Cadent’s latest update and only third-hand information from neighbours. The council did ultimately come to check on her, and she got some letters from Olivia Blake, but I asked her what she would have liked in terms of support.

“Just somebody knowing my situation. From Friday to Wednesday I’d got no heat and I couldn’t have a shower because it was too cold. Even when I did get a radiator it was still perishing cold.

“It’s nobody’s fault. But it’s not something that I’d wish on anybody.”

Now she has been reconnected, Kathryn wants energy companies to learn from this and improve communication and support for disabled people when there’s another crisis.

We asked all parties involved in the outage response what they have done to support vulnerable residents and disabled people.

Olivia Blake MP told Now Then:

I am acutely aware that the past week has been particularly devastating for vulnerable residents, including Disabled people. I have been doing everything in my power to ensure vulnerable groups have been able to access support. I have been out in Stannington every day with my team and volunteers, supporting the Council to do welfare checks on vulnerable residents and I have hand delivered leaflets with up-to-date information about support.

Cadent have also been advising vulnerable groups to fill out their Priority Services Register so that their vulnerabilities are known to Cadent and proper support can be provided. Despite this I know too many people, including Disabled people, have really suffered these past 10 days.

Once the initial incident has been resolved, there must be a full investigation so that all residents in Stannington receive answers for what went wrong and why.

Olivia Blake MP

Yorkshire Water said:

We have been going door-to-door speaking to residents. People on our free Priority Services Register, that may need additional support, have been prioritised and we’ve worked closely with Cadent and Sheffield City Council to make sure vulnerable residents have been supported.

Yorkshire Water

Cadent told us:

Throughout this incident we have been working with the British Red Cross and Sheffield Council to ensure those on the Priority Services Register or the council’s vulnerability list have been visited and their needs met as best we can until the gas supply can be restored.

Depending on the needs of an individual, we have offered alternative cooking and heating facilities, blankets etc. and offered them alternative accommodation if necessary.


Northern Powergrid and Sheffield City Council did not respond to our request for comment.

Learn more

Olivia Blake has liaised with the CEO of Yorkshire Water to ensure that people without internet access can claim by phone on 01274 250 555.

You can also contact Cadent on 0800 917 9598.

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