Bright sparks at energy firm celebrate Wearside birthday

The "Class of 95" - staff at EDF who have served the firm at Doxford Park for the past 20 years.
The "Class of 95" - staff at EDF who have served the firm at Doxford Park for the past 20 years.
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One of the North East’s largest employers is set to mark its 20th anniversary in Sunderland by honouring long-serving staff.

EDF Energy moved to Doxford Park two decades ago, when the firm was known as London Electric, and has grown from employing 50 people tomore than 1,500 during that time.

Some of the original staff of London Electric - now EDF - when it moved to Doxford Park.

Some of the original staff of London Electric - now EDF - when it moved to Doxford Park.

Now 20 members of staff, who joined when the customer service centre first opened in 1995, are to receive long service awards during the firm’s anniversary celebrations.

“We are delighted to have reached this milestone. We have become so much more than just an employer,” said Kevin Gatens, head of EDF Energy customer service for North East.

“As one of the first operations of its kind in Sunderland, we have led the way in creating a customer services employment culture that is now so important to local people and the local economy.”

Work on the new £125million Doxford Business Park – later renamed Doxford International – began in 1992, with The Insurance Service and North of England Building Society among the first firms to snap up spaces.

The second phase included a 33,000sq ft base for sportswear giant Nike and, in April 1995, phase three opened – a £17.5million, 113,000sq ft office block with the capacity to create more than 1,000 jobs.

Just seven months later, in November 1995, London Electricity announced it would be moving into the building, while mobile phone firm One 2 One, later renamed T-Mobile, took over the remainder.

By the end of the decade Doxford was home to 8,000 workers and today, 20 years on, EDF Energy is one of the biggest successes – employing 1,500 and managing 5.3million residential accounts.

“I’ve been at Doxford for the full 20 years,” said learning and development manager Doug Turner. “Originally, I came up from London for three months, but that turned to six months and then longer.

“My wife had just had our first child when we moved to Sunderland, and we just really enjoyed the place, the people and the lifestyle – we loved everything about it, and ended up staying.

“It was obviously difficult at first, as we didn’t have our family around us, but we were made to feel really welcome and decided to stay. It was a big decision - but one we have never regretted.”

Another 20-year staffer, operational prepayment manager Kerry Lawson, added: “EDF is a great place to work, and there is a fantastic sense of pride in what we have achieved.

“Doxford has changed and evolved so much over the last 20 years. In the very early days the workforce was expanding week on week, with everyone on a steep learning curve together.

“There was, and still is, a great sense of camaraderie amongst everyone. We were all on a journey together, but we still had - and have – the opportunity to take part in community projects too.”

Indeed, EDF allows staff to take up to two days extra paid leave a year for voluntary work with local charities and organisations – from schools, to charities and helping local youngsters.

“I’ve taken part in various projects, including setting up a mini call centre in a local school, planting trees for Green Britain Day and tidying and painting benches in a local park,” added Kerry.

In addition to the charity work, however, another of the features the Sunderland EDF operation has become known for over the years is its high staff retention rates – as well as low staff turnover.

This, according to EDF, is represented not only by the number of 20th anniversary long service awards, but also by the number of people who have developed successful careers within the firm.

“We are fortunate to have a large team of enthusiastic and dedicated staff who have played a pivotal role in the success of the offices,” added Kevin. “The team here play an important role in the local community, supporting local organisations and charities through voluntary projects and fundraising.”