Winter squad

Winter squad is a voluntary led project supported by the Council under the “Your Call” campaign.  Local groups of volunteers each form a winter squad in order to look after the more vulnerable in their local area and to help keep shared public areas free of ice and snow during an extended cold snap.

A pilot in 2011 in the East Rural, Corporation Park and Roe Lee Wards was successful. The Council has now agreed to extend the squads across the borough.

How does winter squad work?

Each group has a central volunteer contact, supported by their Ward Councillors and a community officer from the Shared Neighbourhood Team.  When a cold snap is predicted, the central volunteer is informed by the BwD Weather Watch Facebook page, or by telephone by their community officer.  The central coordinator then “mobilises” (or asks) their winter squad to grit certain previously agreed areas, and/or clear snow as appropriate. Volunteers are also asked to keep an eye on local people they know to be particularly vulnerable (for example the elderly or people with disabilities) that may need a bit of extra help in their area. It is recommended that after each “shift” volunteers ring their winter squad volunteer co-ordinator when they finish for safety.

What materials are provided by the Council under “Your Call”?

The Council has agreed to offer 6 tons to each winter squad group.  This will be available in one ton bags.  The winter squad group may wish to have bags distributed to separate areas.

The groups are also given snow shovels, buckets, spades, and high-vis jackets with hoods. In addition, each volunteer will be given a “Winter squad” pack of information to support the “neighbourly” aspects of winter squad.  This will include information on additional services that can be called upon to help including the Council’s Handy Man services, Age Concern, Health advice and key contacts, such as local ward councillors.

How will the grit be distributed?

This can be done as each winter squad group sees fit. Last year volunteers collected grit from the main locations in buckets and sacks and took it home to keep nearby for when the call came. 

Why existing groups?

Existing groups will have the necessary links into the community. These networks will be really important in the event of an extended cold snap. If a new groups wants to start up to become a winter squad, this will be welcomed. Unfortunately resources are limited and this would need to be taken into account when supporting new groups.

How big is each winter squad area?

As volunteers, there is no commitment and the area covered is up to them. Typically a winter squad would look after a few streets (including community buildings like Mosques and Churches) only. 

Is the grit for roads and private drives?

No. Each winter squad will decide where they will operate, however it is recommended that they don’t grit the roads. If volunteers consider it important to grit a vulnerable person’s property (say to the bins or the front gate) then this would be up to them. Grit is not to be sold on or used by able bodied people to grit their own drives.

What about safety?

Each winter squad group is required to consider their own safety precautions.  Written guidance will be offered.  It is recognised that different areas might have different hazards (for example rural or urban areas). The Council can put on free workshops to help groups to identify hazards and manage risks.  This will be considered by volunteers at the above workshop and if there is demand these will be offered at suitable locations and times.

How do winter squad volunteers know who is vulnerable in their area?

It is highly likely that volunteers will already be neighbourly because that is the kind of person they are.  As such, they are likely to know who needs a bit of extra help in their immediate area.  The Council is working on how best to identify people that might want some extra help in an extended cold snap – without breaching their privacy, confidentiality and maintaining safety.

What about personal liability?

Each winter squad group is responsible for their own safety and for their own personal liability. 

What about links with existing schemes

The Council and partners have a number of existing schemes such as winter warmth, slips trips and falls, the Handy Man service, energy efficiency and other housing related initiatives.  For example, winter squad volunteers will be able to refer elderly individuals who need extra help to organisations like the Care Network or to the Handy Man service if they have a burst pipe. 

Hints and Tips

  • Always wear your high-vis vest
  • Be alert for traffic at all times
  • Please don’t grit roads (for safety reasons)
  • Children should be accompanied by a responsible adult at all times
  • When going out to grit or to see if someone needs any help, make sure someone knows where you are going and when you will be back
  • Take a mobile phone with you
  • Wear warm clothing even when going out for a short time
  • Always wear your crampons when going out in ice and snow
  • Never lift anything heavier than feels comfortable and lift with a straight back and bent knees
  • “Grit” may be an irritant for sensitive skin and it is recommended that gloves be worn
  • Remember, 1 teaspoon of grit will treat 1 square metre of ice.
  • The BwD Weather Watch Facebook page will keep regular updates on weather conditions to supplement weather forecasts.

Contact details

  • Your local Ward Councillor, Community Officer, Shared Neighbourhood Team or any Council Department can be contacted on (01254) 585585.
  • For emergencies – always call 999.
  • For anti-social behaviour, or to report suspicious behaviour call 101.

Please let your Ward Councillor know if the Council can be of any further assistance and let us know your thoughts, comments and suggestions regarding how we can improve our winter services for you, your neighbours and your community.

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