In the wake of the unavoidable closures of venues across the globe, IET London: Savoy Place has partially reopened its doors as a respite area for emergency workers.

Adhering to necessary social distancing measures, Savoy Place will now welcome emergency workers, including the Metropolitan Police, ambulance and fire services from around London to seek relief throughout working hours. The initiative, coordinated by Northbank, will offer sanctuary to those still heroically patrolling the London streets during lockdown, with a comfortable place to sit, have a drink, sanitise their hands and use the private facilities.

Visible from London’s South Bank as you cross Waterloo Bridge and commanding visibility on the River Thames, Savoy Place is perfectly placed as a temporary drop-in centre. Extensive space and concierge services allow for the sensible distancing of staff and visitors, with up to six workers permitted at any one time between the hours of 10:15am-3:45pm Monday to Friday. With wellness a key focus, the aim is to help relieve the enormous strain on many emergency workers through a small gesture of appreciation for the work they do to keep London safe.

As we celebrated VE Day last week and commemorated the end of WWII, a look through the IET’s archives unveiled similar initiatives from more than 75 years ago when the Electrical Association for Women provided a place of comfort and respite for key workers and troops during wartime. They undertook a Mobile Welfare Canteen Service which saw pop-up canteens open for troops on isolated searchlight and anti-aircraft gun posts. The service was available to varying numbers of troops, keeping the canteens well stocked so that any emergency situation could be met, from giving food and drink to tired troops on the march, to fulfilling any unexpected requests from Military Authorities.

The pop-up vehicles were made to look homely and included a library of portable bookcases to enable the men to make their dinner choices at leisure. Additional articles such as cleaning materials, buttons, sewing equipment and toiletries were also readily available, along with stamps and volunteers to post the workers’ letters to loved ones.

Savoy Place itself was not evacuated during the war and staff were kept in place while shelters were built at the venue. Although the building was damaged as a result of bomb blasts, no major structural damage was caused and it remains today as a hub for engineers, events and right now, a centre for emergency workers.

On the initiative to reopen Savoy Place to emergency workers, Sean Spencer, Head of Venues and Facilities at the IET said: “We have a social responsibility as a business as well as individuals to recognise ways we can help those most at risk during these difficult times, given the resources we have. While we all continue to work remotely, we wanted to find a way to put the physical building to good use in the meantime and support the incredible work all of our emergency workers are doing.

“As we look back at some of the most challenging times in history and celebrate the landmark of VE Day, our archives point to the incredible efforts from volunteers whose work went a small way to relieve the burdens of our country’s troops. Though current circumstances are by no means the same, we hope in years to come that our history books will reflect the efforts of thousands in our industry to relieve the pressures on our emergency workers during these times.”