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Val Hampshire
Job title
FBU South West
Following six months of sustained campaigning by FBU, on 22 March 2023 the Cornwall Council Cabinet voted to U-turn on plans to close Cornwall Fire and Rescue Control Centre, much to the delight of Cornwall firefighters and the community they proudly serve.

Back in September 2022, Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service had announced plans to scrap its entire control operation on money saving grounds. Firefighter control staff play a vital role handling calls from the public, providing safety guidance and deploying resources during incidents.  

Time to fight back

In response to the announcement, FBU fire control members launched their campaign to fight back. They began by creating a detailed report highlighting the essential nature of the work that they do. 

Following this, they hosted visits from Cornwall Councillors, demonstrating how their professional skills, adaptability and local knowledge helped ensure successful resolutions to serious incidents.  

Rallies were quickly organised outside Council meetings to apply pressure. In a show of solidarity, FBU members from other roles around Cornwall attended the rallies and also provided witness evidence of the importance of fire control to all aspects of fire and rescue. 


Victory secured 

In response to the FBU’s campaign, the Neighbourhood Overview Scrutiny Committee (NOSC), a cross-party committee of councillors, unanimously recommended to keep the control centre open 24/7 and improve it with new jobs, IT and funding.

Victory was then secured when Cornwall Council Cabinet decided to uphold the recommendation and reverse plans to shut down the centre. 

We caught up with Val Hampshire, from FBU South West who told us more about the dispute and why standing together with colleagues and the local community they were able to save the control centre: 

Facing the news 

"For the past few years we had been unhappy about the staffing levels being too low. Historically speaking, keeping up with the workload had been difficult.  

When we were told the news of the plans to completely close the control room, it was very sudden and understandably there was a lot of anger, upset and disappointment. We were told that the control room would be closed by 31 March 2023. So many of our members were facing the prospect of losing their livelihoods within six months.  

We were aware of budget constraints and that budgets had historically been a problem, with an overreliance on income generation to fund the control room, but the news was totally unexpected. We knew that we were in a race against time to reverse the decision."

Impact on colleagues  

Initially, it would have been very easy for us to be resigned to the fate of losing the centre, there was a very real impact on the mental health of those whose jobs were now under threat. The mood was originally one of shock and anger over the way that the decision was communicated. It was really important for us to focus the minds and turn that anger into action. 

The level of support amongst the members was never in doubt. They stood together right from the start, keeping each other going and trying to stay positive. We had welfare officers brought in to ensure the wellbeing of each person.  

I think the level of support in the weeks that followed from both colleagues and the public is what motivated us to keep going and fight." 

Campaigning to win 

We began a campaign in earnest. Our first step was to create a petition to make people aware that this critical service was being earmarked for closure. We felt the decision would prove dangerous. 

That petition went on to gather over 6,000 signatures, which we believe proved very powerful in determining the Council’s final decision. We wanted to make it clear to the local residents that by closing the centre, the reality would be that 999 calls will not be answered in Cornwall.

When you consider that over 59,000 999 calls are taken each year for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, you realise that the true value of the centre and the devastating impact closing it would have been. 

I think by launching the petition and reaching out for support, it really did demonstrate the power of a union, because we had so much support coming in from other stations. We had solidarity messages from control rooms and fire stations across the country. People were calling us telling us they had just heard the news and were angry and prepared to help us fight back. 

We used social media to push that petition and shared it in local community groups. The response was overwhelming and gave us a renewed sense of purpose. Alongside that we sent letters to all of the County Councillors, the Town Councillors and the Parish Councillors to raise the issues. 

Throughout the campaign, we worked hard to demonstrate to the Councillors the way we worked, the role we played and how important the job actually is. They really did start to show an interest in that which was incredibly important for us and we started to feel their support.” 

Standing together in victory 

Until that final vote and those hands went up in unanimous support, we really didn’t know which way the decision was going to go. Both the NOSC and the Cabinet committees voted unanimously to keep the centre open and most importantly to fund it correctly. This was a huge win on two fronts. 

When the news came in that we had been successful and manged to keep the control centre open, the mood was one of pure relief and joy. Right up until the end, we had colleagues still sat in final meetings with butterflies in their stomach unsure if they had secured the centre or not. But we had. Our fight was won.

Lessons for the future  

The abiding experience from this was how important the support was to keep us going throughout the uncertainty of those six long months. The union is very much an extended family, but it isn’t until your darkest moments you realise how much support there actually is available to us. Knowing that we had the support of our colleagues, our communities and our union, was incredibly important to our success.” 

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