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Oliwia Miłek-Richards

"There are only four people in the entire Great Britain that do my job. We have a small margin of error, but a serious mistake in the assessment could lead to overloading the grid and cause a blackout."
 

 

 

 

I first came to Britain in the summer of 2002. I was studying Environmental Protection to become an engineer when my friend and I joined an exchange programme to gain work experience on farms – and we ended up picking strawberries.

We worked there for some 80 days, in rain and sun. The work was so hard that although I loved strawberries before, I have been avoiding them ever since. No joke! (laughter)

But there we met fantastic people from across the entire Eastern bloc, and the trip was great fun - so much that after we decided we had to do it again. The following year, we took a gap year and left Poland again. In such situations, British students usually go to Chile or some other distant corner of the world but we ended up back at the bloody strawberry farm.

We spent some ten months living in cramped caravans, which were sometimes very cold and sometimes very hot. Despite that we treated it all as a great adventure and an opportunity to earn money to help support out families.
 
After returning home, I graduated and decided that I want to continue my education in Britain. Although Poland had just joined the EU, I had no idea how to get funding for university, so I did a typically Polish thing – I decided I had to earn the money first.

In the following two years I worked in a variety of places: in a canteen at a bus depot, in a distribution hub, a care home and even as a cleaner in private homes. At the peak of this madness, I was working 70 hours a week - but I made it, and a year later I had a Master's degree from the University of Reading.

After leaving university, I worked in the Department of Environmental Protection at Reading Council and one day a colleague told me that the National Grid was looking for new people. I knew immediately it was something for me.

Initially, they were looking to fill an administrative post, but after a job interview I received a call and was asked to a second meeting about a more interesting, technical post. At that meeting, I was offered the job I still do today: predicting electricity demand for the whole country.

There are only four people in the whole of Great Britain who do this job. Based on meteorological and historical data we prepare a daily, detailed forecast for the engineers who take care of keeping the supply and demand in a safe balance.

We have a small margin of error, and a serious mistake in the assessment could lead to an overload of the grid and cause a blackout. I like the thrill when the situation is especially tricky and making a prediction is a real challenge, but I am also very much aware of the responsibility for the energy security of this country.

Out of the four analysts, I am the only woman. But I must admit that there are many women in various roles at our company, including managers. I feel that our management takes equal opportunities seriously and it doesn't care about my gender or where I'm from, but what I can do.

I have encountered negative stereotypes from people in Poland - which is surprising - where many people assume that if you work in the UK, it must be a restaurant or kitchen job because you cannot achieve anything more without contacts. I hope that my example shows this is rubbish.

Outside working hours I have close ties with the Polish Saturday School in Reading and the wider Polish community in the city. We rarely talk about work as we have totally different professional experiences, but these joint activities bring us together.

I must admit I have never applied for British citizenship because I had assumed it was unnecessary as we are both members of the European Union. Now I will have to rethink this decision, but I am waiting to get a clearer picture of the future of our rights post-Brexit.

Living here for some years, I have learnt how to draw the best from both countries - and I hope this will not change.

 

Words: Jakub Krupa

Picture: Jadwiga Brontē

 

© 2012 Ministry of Foreign Affairs