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24 September 2014

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Met Office prepares for big switch
Weatherman Steve Randall at Bracknell Met Office
Met Office staff, including weatherman Steve Randall, are heading west to Exeter in 2003
Devon's population is about to be swelled by more than 1,100, when the Met Office moves lock, stock and barrel from Bracknell to Exeter. We've been to meet some of the staff who are preparing to head west to Devon in 2003, when the new building should be ready for action.
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The Met Office was formed in 1854.

At that time, it was just a small section of the Board of Trade.

Forecasts were first broadcast on the BBC in 1922.

The role of the Met Office, and the job of weather forecasting, took on a greater importance during WWII, when staffing increased dramatically.

The first live TV weather broadcast took placed in 1954 - exactly 100 years after the Met Office was born.

The Met Office's base in Bracknell was opened in 1962.

The first six months of 2002 were the the warmest on record in the northern hemisphere.


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To move or not to move is the question facing hundreds of Met Office employees as the organisation relocates from Bracknell to Exeter.

It is a massive undertaking, and it began in October 2001, when building work on the new building at Sowton got under way.

The £150m project is one of the biggest IT moves ever seen in Europe, with 1,150 staff upping sticks along with all of that highly sensitive computer equipment.

With just over 12 months to go before the majority of jobs are relocated, many Met Office employees are now being issued with their notices of posting. But not everyone wants to make the move to Devon.

Administrator Dot Burton is among those who have decided to stay put. She said:"I wouldn't know anyone down there, expect for Met Office people - and I like my friends here."

Met Office at Bracknell
Closing down...the office in Bracknell

Commercial manager Robin Thwaytes did not want to move either. But having always dreamt of being a weather forecaster since the age of 10, he feels he has little option but to come to Exeter.

"I'm a Met Office person through and through - so I'll go where the Met Office goes," he said. "I don't think I'd find a job that I'd like outside the Met Office.

"I suppose I could get a job in Sainsbury's stacking shelves, but it's not quite the same."

It is expected that around 70% of the existing staff will move - that's some 800 employees and their families. Many have already bought houses in Devon.

Steve English is moving to Feniton this summer with his wife and three daughters and plans to commute back to Bracknell until his post is transferred to Exeter.

As a family, they did not want to leave their home in Farnham. But like Robin Thwaytes, Steve wanted to keep his job: "When we first heard the announcement the initial reaction was we don't want to go.

"But we had time to look at our options and decide what was the best thing for us and to go down and visit the area and get to know it better. And gradually we started to come round to the idea that it will be OK."

For some, the decision to move to Devon was easy. Weather forecaster Steve Randall's home is still in Plymouth from the days when he worked at Plymouth weather centre.

He is looking forward to working back in the county again: "I can't wait," he said.

"I'm counting the days down because for seven years I've had to go away for several days at a time and then go home to my family, but now when we do move I'll be able to go to work and go home on the same day. I'm really looking forward to that."

The site at Sowton
The site where the new building is being built at Sowton

Climate researcher Chris Hewitt was also delighted when the opportunity to move to Exeter came up, having previously studied at Exeter University: "I'd had three years there and thoroughly enjoyed it.

"Ever since I left Exeter, I've been wanting to go back there but I enjoy working for the Met Office so I had a bit of a dilemma really. Now it turns out I can carry on working for the Met Office and go to Exeter, so I'm very pleased indeed."

Employees and their families are being helped by a specialist relocation team which is also responsible for organising the office move.

Transition team manager Kirby James said it is a mammoth task: "We've actually got to catalogue all the things which are going and we have a system of coloured dots which we can stick on the computers, so we can actually mark them as to whether they're going or not.

The team is helping staff to find houses by displaying copies of the local evening paper the Express and Echo in all offices.

Estate agent Richard Copus says the prices in parts of Bracknell and the Exeter area are about the same and those hoping to upgrade may be disappointed.

But he believes supply could be the main difficulty Met Office house hunters face.

"The problem in the whole of the south of England is that everyone seems to want to live here," he said.

Schools will feel the squeeze...

The influx of Met Office families is also set to boost numbers in Devon schools. Around 45 children of Met Office families are currently at school in Devon, but by September 2003 around 400 are expected.

Devon's director of education, Tony Smith, is faced with finding them all a place in what is already a tight squeeze, particularly in secondary schools.

He said: "We're at a stage where there's a pretty close fit between the number of pupils and the number of places. That means whenever there are additional pupils, we've got to build.

"It's fine when a new housing estate goes up, but these several hundred pupils will be spread across Devon and it will be quite difficult to second guess where they're going to live."

Leaders welcome the influx

The relocation will also have a huge impact on the local economy.

Construction of the new building is already well underway, on the site at Sowton which the Met Office will occupy.

Some sections could be occupied as early as Spring 2003, as computer equipment is installed, with the bulk of staff set to move in during the autumn of 2003.

Weather forecasters will be among the first to relocate and a key date is July 2003, when it is expected that control of the Met Office weather centre will transfer from Bracknell to Exeter.


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