Heroes of Heat – The past, present and future of the charity project

Viessmann’s Jonathon Hallam has brought together a group of like-minded installers to undertake charitable and community projects. Installer spoke to him about the origins of Heroes of Heat and how he sees it developing in the future.
It’s a simple idea – find a community-focused project, ask suppliers to provide the necessary equipment, and then recruit suitably-skilled tradespeople to carry out the required work. Most people will have seen a variation of this premise in one form or another on television at some point. But now there’s a group of heating installers doing it ‘for real’ – without the draw of PR, marketing or television fame.
The ‘Heroes of Heat’ is a team of willing volunteers, backed by heating systems manufacturer Viessmann, and ably put together by Jonathon Hallam – who are busy putting their own time and energy into projects that really need their need help.
Installer met with Jonathon to find out more about how this great initiative all started.
Hearing the call
“The first project came about simply because I saw a ‘shoutout’ on Twitter from Pete Booth (@pbplumber). It was sooner than I wanted to start doing it – although I’d been thinking about it for a while – but when I saw the problems, I thought ‘I can’t let that happen’.
“About 12 months ago, people would contact me for technical advice. I started to build relationships with them. Once I got to know them, I realised that they would be ideal and suggested doing the projects to them.
“I give them all jobs. I ask them ‘What do you want to do?’ and we go from there. I have 15 key guys – I don’t really want it to be to be much more than that. They are vital to the initiative because they each bring something unique – and not just in terms of skills (such as IT or surveying) but also in terms of presence and enthusiasm. I know what I want to achieve and it’s more than just doing installations.”
From the outside looking in, it would be easy to believe that the hardest part of his charitable initiative would be convincing heating engineers and plumbers to give up their free time (or turndown work) to take part.
However, in an era when we’re repeatedly told that ‘time is money’, it is refreshing to discover that Jonathon has to be careful of how he promotes Heroes of Heat for fear of being inundated by volunteers. In fact, Jonathon has to keep each project secret until it starts, to avoid having to turn enthusiastic installers away.
Choosing the right projects
Far more of his time is actually spent choosing the right projects because it’s important to know that the time will be well spent once on site – and that it will deliver real benefits.
“One of the biggest challenges is finding the installations. With community projects (clubs or day centres), we can affect more people and also it’s easier to share the responsibility the installation once it is finished.
“We would consider domestic properties – because there are plenty of people who could benefit from our help – but my preference is for the larger projects.”
A part to play
While the opportunity to help those in need is undoubtedly a big reason for Jonathon forming the Heroes of Heat with Viessmann, he also sees the scheme as playing a key role in developing the industry itself. With debate often centering around the lack of opportunity for students and apprentices, Jonathon believes that this initiative can go some way to correcting that. Equally, the need to promote professionalism among existing installers means there is a benefit to those who volunteer their time.
“The scheme is really about both the install and the mentoring. Each of the installers who help on a project will be taking an apprentice or student under their wing during the job. I contact colleges and apprenticeship providers to offer them a chance to get some real experience on-site and learn from some really good, experienced heating engineers and plumbers.”
“During the project, the installers will also do some specific training alongside the general mentoring. For example, one of the guys might do water treatment, another might do pipe bending. There’s nothing else like it – it can help both parties in a number of ways – experience, confidence, etc. It’s important that we still talk to the apprentices and students once the installation project is finished. We continue to support them and guide them because it’s a long process – and you never really stop learning. It’s not just about technical skills because there’s other aspects to the job that the mentors can help with – running the business, managing your time, even stocking your van.”
A heritage of helping
Charitable work in the heating industry is nothing new – this sector has a long and proud tradition of raising money and awareness for a number of worthy causes. Heroes of Heat seems to especially resonate with installers.
For Jonathon, the secret to the scheme’s success is obvious. Everything – from the projects chosen to the training sessions run by the volunteers – is chosen by those participating, creating a real sense of community. In a profession where so much time can be spent working alone, the opportunity to be a part of team is incredibly rewarding. Putting the emphasis on this, according to Jonathon, is very appealing to the volunteers he recruits.
“I’ve been a sole trader myself, which means I can help those involved in the scheme. I can engage with them and relate to them better than someone’s who has never done it. Sometimes you have to have experienced the bad days to be able to understand what they’re going through.
“It can be a lonely job being a sole trader and these guys know that I understand that. Sometimes they’ll ring me for a moan or a chat or a bit of advice – especially if they’re coping with something for the first time.
“That’s one of the reasons why I think Heroes of Heat has been a success. Plus, it brings together people, who would normally work on their own, to create a very real camaraderie. They love working together, helping each other out, sharing knowledge and experience etc. They are prepared to support and guide each other at all times – and that’s important.”
Thinking forward
The premise behind Heroes of Heat is simple – and that is the beauty of it. With a successful series of installations already behind them, coupled with a genuine desire among the team to make a real difference, means that bigger and better things can be expected over the coming years – and months. Watch this space.
Viessmann and Heroes of Heat would like to thank the following for their support: Buildbase, EPH Controls, Fernox, IMI Hydronic Engineering, JG Speedfit, M-Press Fittings, Plumbase, QRL Radiators, and Spirotech.