Reflecting on the Keyham incident

27 February 24

Life Centre Support PCH

A week on from the Keyham incident, teams at Plymouth Community Homes are reflecting on how they responded – and receiving praise from residents, councillors and partner organisations for their efforts.

Organisations across Plymouth demonstrated an incredible collaborative effort to support residents and the local community following the discovery of an unexploded WW2 bomb in a garden on St Michael Avenue in Keyham.

After the suspect device was brought to the attention of Devon and Cornwall Police on Tuesday 20 February, a Major Incident was declared in Keyham, and initially residents living within 200m of the device were asked to evacuate the area for their safety. At this time, there were 50 PCH properties evacuated, and of these, a number of tenants were identified as having high vulnerabilities.

To support our residents affected in the Keyham area, Plymouth Community Homes (PCH) staff instantly jumped into action and worked tirelessly alongside the police and Plymouth City Council (PCC) who led on the major incident response.

PCH was first made aware of the suspected device on Tuesday morning after being contacted by PCC and asked to make The Beacon, our community hub located in the heart of North Prospect, available as the official rest centre for residents having to leave their homes.

On that day, PCH staff worked up to 16 hour shifts to support both our residents and private residents who had to evacuate from the initial 200m cordon at short notice. We provided tea, coffee and hot meals at The Beacon cooked by Tina Olford, Beacon Coffee House Worker.

Tina worked around the clock to ensure that residents and the local community were fed, watered and looked after following the sudden evacuation, cooking up a never ending supply of bacon rolls, chicken wraps, chips and much more.

Our staff also worked with PCC staff to help find evacuees’ temporary accommodation in local hotels and supported residents to source medication with our partners at Livewell Southwest, as well as helping residents with health and mobility issues, and providing pets with food and water to make sure they were also comfortable during the unsettling experience.

On Wednesday, The Beacon was again the official rest centre for the Keyham incident and staff were working at our community hub from 7am until 10pm offering support to all who needed it.

At 9am on Thursday morning, the cordon was extended to 309m and more residents were asked to leave their homes while the Royal Navy Explosive Ordinance Disposal team (EOD) continued to work to oversee the safe detonation of the device.

An additional 122 PCH properties were evacuated as a result of the extension to the cordon.

On this day, the official rest centre moved to the Life Centre in Milehouse, and there were teams of 6-9 PCH staff based there from 7am – 10pm every day to support residents in finding emergency accommodation, as well as providing advice or practical support.

To ensure that the official rest centre was well equipped for residents who had been evacuated from their homes, we organised furniture to be delivered to the Life Centre. This included all tables and chairs from the Conference Centre at Plumer House, which were delivered by our PCH Rangers to provide seating for residents.

We also sent bundles of toiletries, blankets, toys and various essential items from our Reuse Centre to the Life Centre, offering further support and comforts to residents.

When the decision was made on Friday to move the device rather than detonate it on site, everyone living within 300m of the convoy route had to evacuate at very short notice, with an estimated 10,000 people having to move out of the area by 2pm.

PCH quickly deployed more staff to the Life Centre to support residents. Back at the office, the area due to be evacuated was quickly assessed, and our strategy team collated a list of all blocks and homes belonging to PCH which would need to be evacuated, as well as highlighting all of the residents in those homes who were especially vulnerable and needed extra support, or transport to help them move out of the area.

25 Rangers who deliver neighbourhood services were immediate diverted away from their usual jobs, which include grounds maintenance, caretaking, house clearance and grass cutting, to help evacuate residents from blocks and transport vulnerable residents to the Life Centre, working closely with the housing team.

The Rangers, who started their usual shifts at 7:30am that day, then stayed late at work into the evening, so they could ferry residents back home from the Life Centre after the bomb had been safely taken out to sea and the cordon was lifted at 6pm.

Dave Robson, a Ranger, safely delivered Teddy, a German Shepherd back to the home of its owner on Friday night.

At the request of PCC, The Beacon was once again made available as the official rest centre on Saturday and Sunday, and PCH staff attended to support any residents in need of advice information or mental health support after the incident, alongside PCC, Livewell Southwest and the British Red Cross.

Due to a low number of residents and the wider community visiting The Beacon for support and advice following their safe return back to their properties, the official rest centre was closed down at 1pm on Saturday.

The PCH response was overseen by a Major Incident Response Team at PCH which met every few hours to review the situation. The team was led by Jonathan Cowie, Chief Executive, and made up of Nick Jackson, Executive Director of Business Services & Development; Gill Martin, Executive Director of Corporate Services; Tracey Gray, Interim Executive Director of Homes and Neighbourhoods; Phil Burgoyne, Interim Head of Neighbourhoods; Mary O’Leary, Head of Communications and Marketing, and Angie Edwards-Jones, Head of Customer Experience and PCH’s Business Continuity Lead, supported by Leigh Careswell, PA to Jonathan Cowie.  

During these meetings the team determined the appropriate response, with a number of operational IRTs then overseeing the delivery of the work. These groups included staff from different departments including housing, communities, housing with support, customer response, communications, environmental services and facilities.

Staff also joined response team meetings with PCC, Devon and Cornwall Police, the MoD and various partner organisations throughout the week to connect our work to the overall response, working collaboratively to achieve the best outcome.

The response came from across the organisation, with many staff from various departments volunteering to help and work shifts at the Life Centre in the day and the late evening, working alongside the housing team. Other staff supported from the office or online from home to help coordinate our response, through booking hotels, organising emergency payments, ordering supplies, compiling maps and residents data information and much more.

Phil Burgoyne, Interim Head of Neigbourhoods, led the Major Incident Response from PCH, and said: “Through incidents like we saw in Keyham last week, you see the incredible staff we have at Plymouth Community Homes and their willingness to go above and beyond to ensure our residents are safe and supported.

“The way we were able to adapt to what was a fast-changing situation was only possible due to our staff stepping up when needed, whether it was supporting residents at The Beacon, working alongside other partner organisations at the Life Centre or out in the neighbourhood picking up vulnerable residents, and door knocking to help with the evacuation. I couldn’t be prouder of how PCH have responded and helped.”

Jonathan Cowie, Chief Executive at PCH, said: “As a relative newcomer to Plymouth having joined PCH last autumn, I was hugely impressed with the response from across the city as organisations came together to support the community of Keyham through this incident.

“There was a fast, efficient and thorough response from Plymouth City Council and Devon & Cornwall Police working closely with the Ministry of Defence teams, and supported superbly by organisations such as Livewell, NHS Devon and many more.

“The people of Plymouth more than rose to the challenge and proved how united the city is when there is a crisis, and the strength of the community really shone through.

“As the largest social housing landlord in Plymouth, and with many homes in the Keyham evacuation area, it was always essential for Plymouth Community Homes to do whatever we could to help our residents who had to leave their home at short notice.

“But we went above and beyond and did much more, making our community centre The Beacon in North Prospect available as the official rest centre for the city, providing free food and drink to anyone evacuated – whether they were PCH tenants or not – and helping people to safely leave the area on Friday when the bomb was about to be moved.

“I was enormously proud of the PCH team and I saw first-hand just how much commitment and care our staff have for our residents, with dozens of staff working long hours and staying late into the evenings to make sure residents had somewhere to go, or were supported with essentials.

“One of our core values is to ‘do the right thing’ and during the Keyham incident, staff put this into action on a daily basis. It’s clear to me that PCH, and Plymouth, have community at their heart, and I’m proud we played such an integral part of the response.”

We have received an abundance of thanks and grateful words from our residents, as well as private residents, with many appreciating what PCH did to support them.

Denise Henderson, a PCH resident living within the evacuation zone, wanted to express her thanks to PCH for their support.

Denise said: “I would like to thank PCH and PCC for their support with finding myself and my husband alternative emergency accommodation. We were told to visit the Life Centre to access support, but as my husband is disabled with an assistance dog, and I have limited walking ability, we were sourced accommodation by the afternoon on Wednesday and were given support remotely by the teams. We are grateful for the support, and we are now glad to be home safe.”

A number of positive feedback messages were also left on our social media posts, including from PCC ward councillor Kevin Sprotson, which said: “I can’t say enough how impressive, professional and supportive your team has been over this tough time for the Keyham community. Thank you for all of the staff that worked so hard to help.”

We have also received words of thanks and have been commended by PCC for our work.

Sharing their thoughts on social media, Councillor Tudor Evans, Council Leader Councillor, said: “Terrific work by PCH staff and Mr Cowie played a blinder. Thank you all.”

Jemima Laing, Plymouth Labour Councillor and Deputy Leader at PCC added: “Thank you Plymouth Community Homes, your teams have been incredible.”

Take a look at our staff spotlight, where we recognise the response from staff throughout the incident.

Nicola Street Case Study Assistant Housing Officer

Assistant Housing Officer

Nicola supports residents through the Keyham incident

WX2A6122 2 (1)

Neighbourhood Ranger

Rhys evacuates residents from Keyham


Beacon Coffee House Worker

Tina cooks up a storm for residents, staff and members of the community

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