Gemma Allard is the communications officer for Suffolk Highways, one year ago she also became the only female HGV gritter driver to be trained on the road network in Suffolk. Here, Gemma explains how she got involved with gritter driving and why it’s a role that goes hand-in-hand with her day job.
“I have been with Suffolk Highways for almost 10 years and I have been working in my day-to-day role as a communications officer, for three years. This role is predominantly office-based and involves working closely with various media outlets to notify them of upcoming Suffolk Highways schemes and also to ensure stakeholders are informed.
Over the past couple of years, I have been heavily involved in winter operations by navigating the drivers around the routes. I was especially involved with the ‘Beast from the East’ and throughout this I buddied up with the drivers when ploughs were in operation to assist and guide the driver along the route safely, where necessary.
Around 18 months ago, Suffolk Highways introduced Exactrack, a unique web-based tracking and monitoring system for specialist highways maintenance vehicles, to the fleet; meaning the drivers no longer needed a navigator. I knew I still wanted to be involved in the winter maintenance and so I decided I would give the driving a go.
I was a bit nervous about telling my colleagues, friends and family that I wanted to train to be a gritter driver as it has traditionally been thought of as a ‘male’ job. I was also a bit concerned about being able to juggle my day-to-day job with gritting. However, I told the team I work in and they have been very supportive and have enabled me to complete the gritting and supported me when I’m out of the office.
With my communications role, it is one of my responsibilities to keep the residents updated of the status of the roads and doing gritting goes hand-in-hand with this. When I have finished my gritting runs, I am able to then go back to the office and give a real time update of how the roads in the region are and to inform the county’s road users of any potentially dangerous areas.
I completed my HGV training and winter maintenance course at the end of 2018 and I did my first gritter run on Christmas Eve with an experienced driver. Since then I have completed several gritting treatments, with my own dedicated route.
I enjoy the additional job role, the early starts don’t worry me, and the importance of the task motivates me to wake up. Gritter drivers are pivotal in ensuring that roads are safe across the region and that any unnecessary incidents are prevented from taking place due to adverse weather conditions.
I would encourage anyone wanting to complete their HGV and winter training to go for it, male or female. It can be a challenging and demanding role, but the work satisfaction makes it all worth it. Deciding to do my training was the best decision I could have made, and I enjoy continuing to go on runs and keep the county safe and moving.”