As the Capital prepares for heavy snow, big-hearted volunteers are ready to take to the streets

Chair of Firhill Community Council Heather Levy and Chair of the Pentland Community Mangement Committee Dennis Williams prepare for the snowy onslaught.
Chair of Firhill Community Council Heather Levy and Chair of the Pentland Community Mangement Committee Dennis Williams prepare for the snowy onslaught.
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THE shovel hit the ice and barely made an impression.

The ground was frozen solid after weeks of sub-zero temperatures, and Heather Levy was already exhausted from hours of digging through mounds of snow.

Paddy Dresser is prepared for the worst in Dalmeny Street

Paddy Dresser is prepared for the worst in Dalmeny Street

But the 51-year-old wouldn’t give up. She was determined that her elderly neighbours, trapped indoors by the severe winter weather, would get the tins of food and power cards being delivered by others trudging up and down the steep slope of Oxgangs Avenue, laden with supplies. Keeping the pavements and road clear was, as she saw it, her duty.

It’s no wonder then that Heather was one of the first to sign up when Edinburgh City Council launched an appeal for snow patrol volunteers, as part of this year’s campaign to keep the city moving should a repeat of last year’s snow fall hit.

She’s on red alert for the first heavy snow, and she believes that last winter was a reminder to all in Oxgangs that working together keeps the community running in the most challenging of times.

“We got hammered last year and Oxgangs Avenue was closed off for two weeks, so we needed people to help us keep things moving”, recalls Heather, who also chairs the Firrhill Community Council and works as a project manager for the Oxgangs Care project.

Henry Duntley is community snow patrol warden for Stenhouse Drive

Henry Duntley is community snow patrol warden for Stenhouse Drive

“A squad of us got together and came up with a plan to shift the snow at the top and bottom of the steep hill, along with Colinton Mains and Firhill Drive because without those the entire area just grinds to a halt. People saw us out working and came to help. There was an issue with folk not having enough food because they couldn’t get out to the shops, so we had to all pitch in together.

“And this was all before the scheme was set up this year, so having equipment and the council support will hopefully mean we’re even more organised if it happens again.”

Heather and her neighbours are among the 30 snow patrollers, who will each play a part in helping out their own communities when the snow arrives. The council has recruited the patrols to act as “lifelines” within their own estates and neighbourhoods and to help the authorities co-ordinate action in severe weather.

The volunteers alert the crews of gritters and mini-tractors to problem spots and ensure roads off the main routes are not left untreated.

Bill Shannon is on standby to help clear his street at Otterburn Park, Colinton

Bill Shannon is on standby to help clear his street at Otterburn Park, Colinton

Many of the volunteers also hope to recruit more local residents to the scheme, as the patrols are not just in place to battle snow, but icy roads and pavements too. Indeed as temperatures fall, many will already have been gritting their own roads and pavements to help avoid accidents.

Other snow patrols have gone further, with the Oxgangs team setting up a soup kitchen and taking shopping orders for elderly residents.

The teams have undergone training sessions and been kitted out with shovels, high-visibility jackets and gloves along with details on how to relay information about their areas. However, the council is still urging more volunteers to join up.

Heather says she signed up this year because her community was badly affected last winter – so much so that many families lost earnings as they could not go to work.

“There was an issue with folk not having enough food,” she says. “People had their kids off school for a fortnight and a lot of them would get free school meals had they been at school, so we came up with the idea of a soup kitchen at Oxgangs Neighbourhood Centre every Friday.

“We also did shopping and bought loads of power cards for older people who couldn’t make it to the shops. I’d absolutely urge anyone who can to sign up and help. I’m sure we’ll have all these services again this year. We become quite self-sustaining. It was almost a street party there were so many people out shovelling snow.”

Such community spirit has not been easy to find everywhere in the city. Four miles across town in Leith, residents are still trying to drum up support for a snow patrol, and it hasn’t been easy.

Paddy Dresser, 62, a recently retired Edinburgh University administrator from Dalmeny Street, says that receiving training and equipment has helped, but he hopes more people in his area will join in.

“I was out shovelling last year, and between myself and another guy we cleared 150 metres of pavement but made the mistake of waiting until it froze and it was just like a staking rink,” he says. “We also didn’t have the right tools and I couldn’t get a spade, there was no salt and no grit until quite late on. This year we’re more prepared, and I’m hoping we can get our own grit bin, but we could do with some more people.”

Paddy admits it’s been difficult to drum up support. “People don’t seem to want to do it and I think there is less community spirit, but I’m hoping that even just getting something as simple as a grit bin might encourage people to pop out and help.

“I’ve got a few people who’ve agreed to come out should it snow. I guess being retired I have more time than others. We’re supposed to be the eyes and ears of the authorities and if we find a really lethal bit then they can come and deal with it.”

It’s a similar story in Stenhouse, where 65-year-old Henry Duntley is the only snow patrol member in his area, but he too hopes he can lead by example and rope a few other residents into helping.

Like Paddy, Henry is also recently retired and so he’s already been out dealing with the cold weather. “I was out when the snow fell two weeks ago doing my own street. I’m retired now, but want to give something back to the community I live in. We were very badly hit last year. I had to get up at 3.30am to get early buses and get to work in time. I think it’s just myself at the moment, but when people see the yellow jacket hopefully they’ll lend a hand.”

In Craiglockhart it’s up to 74-year-old former insurance claims adjuster Bill Shannon to co-ordinate the response of his estate, which like many smaller roads was left untreated last year.

“Otterbank Park is a cul-de-sac perched on a hill and we seem to be off the radar as far as the council is concerned, although it’s understandable,” he says.

“Last year we got the neighbours together and spent the whole morning clearing the roads, but had to go back to square one when it snowed again.

“When we took up the issue with the council they asked if we’d help out, then a few weeks ago they asked if I’d be a snow warden.”

Bill says his neighbours know each other well and are likely to help each other out, but he thinks being part of the council’s winter plan will help. “We’d probably do it anyway, but with the council we have equipment and telephone numbers, and there is a chain of command so we can request extra support in our area.

“If it does get bad I’ll be ringing around the neighbours, and I’ve roped my wife Jenny into doing it.

“There’s a certain camaraderie, a bit of war spirit and it’s good for the community.”

Sign up to be a winter warrior

IF you’ve forked out for a snow shovel and are itching to get using it, but would also like to be part of a team, then it’s not too late to sign up to the council’s new band of snow patrollers, according to councillor Robert Aldridge.

“Based on the tremendous response we had from residents who came forward to help the council deal with the unprecedented situation last winter, our Neighbourhood Teams have been recruiting and training teams of volunteer snow wardens,” he says.

“These civic-minded individuals’ local knowledge will be invaluable in highlighting potential issues should we experience a repeat of the severe wintry weather this year.

“So far, we have around 30 volunteers, spanning all areas of the city, but if anyone is still interested in volunteering, we’d be delighted to hear from them.”

People can volunteer to be a snow warden by calling 0131-529 3687 or sending an email to {mailto: winter.maintenance@edinburgh.gov.uk|winter.maintenance@edinburgh.gov.uk}. For more information visit www.edinburgh.gov.uk/winterweather.