North of England’s gas distributor Northern Gas Networks (NGN) delivers gas to 2.7 million homes and businesses in the North East, Northern Cumbria and much of Yorkshire.
Tom Bell started his career in September 1979, coming straight from school, as an engineering trainee, operationally based with a focus on combining practical aspects associated with Gas Distribution alongside gaining higher educational qualifications.
He’s held many operational roles; Surveyor, Distribution Supervisor, Assistant Engineer, Network Manager and then moved into Programme and Commercial management, before taking responsibility for our IT Systems.
Four years ago, Tom was given the opportunity to move into what could be considered corporate social responsibility, a role that brings together all of his previous experiences, providing an opportunity to really make a difference to the communities and people that NGN serve- “my best job yet!” says Tom.
How long have you been working at Northern Gas Networks(NGN) and what does the business do?
I have been in the industry for slightly over 40 years, with NGN since it was formed in 2005.
As a regulated gas utility, we own and are responsible for maintaining the gas network infrastructure (the pipes) across most of Yorkshire, Northumberland and parts of Cumbria.
We transport gas (but don’t sell it), we make new connections to our network for customers, we maintain and replace pipes and provide a responsive gas emergency repair service in the north of England.
Is there a single piece of advice you wish you’d been given before you started your career?
“If you want to know the answer, ask the bloke in the hole”
Basically making sure that you are connected and fully understand all aspects of work, particularly from those closest to the activity.
Whilst this holds true from a literal perspective, this approach works well with communities, either individual people or groups. I believe that those who live and work with challenges are usually the best source of information and advice.
What is the one most important thing you’ve learned during your experience at NGN?
The benefits of relationships, and networks.
We all can only do so much as individuals, but when we join forces we all can really make a difference.
Recognising opportunities, leveraging knowledge and nurturing relationships can be a power for good.
What do you see as your future business challenges?
My work has a focus on poverty, particularly fuel poverty, and whilst I am delighted at the progress that has been made, I am not complacent, and recognise that no silver bullet or quick fix exists.
Maintaining a clear focus is needed, as is a positive approach to ensure improvements are made.
Specific challenges to address:
Vulnerability– More and more people are becoming vulnerable and we need to be better equipped to both recognise and act on all aspects of vulnerability.
Prioritisation of support– Whilst we see greater challenges arise, it’s important that we are compassionate, but focus on the things we should and can do to make a real, meaningful and lasting difference. Education and referring to partners for support is a must, but as services and funding become more challenging,so do the exitance of organisations to provide much needed support.
What would you like to leave as your business legacy?
I work very hard to support community-initiated projects around Energy and Carbon Monoxide awareness, promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects to the engineers and designers of the future, and raising the profile of the Priority Services Register. The Priority Services Register provides support for those who need it most, people can join the register for many reasons, including:having a chronic illness, being a carer and you having children under the age of five.
My aim is not to fund projects for a limited time and in line with budgets, but to facilitate projects that become sustainable and can continue without NGN support. These continuing projects I would like to be my business legacy.
What do consider to be your biggest business achievement or success so far?
I have had many achievements ranging from attending gas emergencies, managing complex processes and directing programmes of significant business benefit.
However, one achievement that I remain proud of is our Warm Hubs project, developed in partnership with Community Action Northumberland. We have helped to create 28 support facilities, attended by over 1000 people each week, with many examples of where we have been able to touch and improve people’s lives. This is definitely work I am proud to have been able to support.
The Warm Hubs are friendly, warm spaces within the local community where village halls and other locations are supported to become more energy efficient, local volunteers receive free training in energy and carbon monoxide awareness and residents can socialise, get warm, have refreshments and obtain energy advice.
When you are not working at NGN, what do you do to relax?
When not at work I enjoy a variety of things;
- Classic cars give me some pleasure and maintaining them satisfies the engineer in me.
- I learned to Sail a few years ago and enjoy time on the water, this provides a bit of “head space”
- My creative bent is satisfied by cooking, we have a small pop up restaurant in my garden that I host dinner parties at most months, and as my son is a chef, he is training me, a table that I am enjoying being turned!
What do you consider your biggest achievement to be outside of business?
Difficult as work takes up so much time, however, a few years ago a few stone overweight, I decided I should run a marathon, I trained ate better and completed one in Edinburgh in 2009 no records broken but crossing the line after 26.2 miles felt like an achievement.
Not sure why I thought it was a good idea, but in 2012 I did another in London!
Running shoes now retired.
What would you be doing if you weren’t working at the business?
As I enjoy many practical things and having a sense of achievement is important to me, possibly something like building or baking!
If it was 20 years ago, probably a builder with a focus on restoration
If it was now more likely a baker, or something in catering, there is something very rewarding about people enjoying your food.