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Northern Ireland's weather presenters on how they're coping with forecasting from home

As we face the challenges of lockdown, Northern Ireland’s weather presenters tell Claire O’Boyle how they’re coping with changes to their working lives — and have made some big adjustments at home to keep us up to date

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Geoff Maskell

Geoff Maskell

DAVID FITZGERALD

Barra Best

Barra Best

Cecilia Daly working from home with pup Pedro

Cecilia Daly working from home with pup Pedro

Barra Best

Barra Best

Cecilia Daly

Cecilia Daly

Frank Mitchell working from home

Frank Mitchell working from home

Cecilia and her partner Simon Flanagan

Cecilia and her partner Simon Flanagan

Frank Mitchell broadcaster and journalist is currently a weather presenter on UTV Live and a presenter on the radio station U105.

Frank Mitchell broadcaster and journalist is currently a weather presenter on UTV Live and a presenter on the radio station U105.

Freddie Parkinson

Geoff Maskell, who is originally from England, lives in south Belfast with his wife, Susie. The 49-year-old BBC NI weatherman is doing an online course about tackling climate change and believes the coronavirus outbreak could have a lasting impact on how people work in the future.

He says: "I'm coping with all this pretty well. Strangely, it doesn't feel like a massive change, although we don't have kids, so we're not feeling the sort of disruption that other people might be.

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Geoff Maskell

Geoff Maskell

DAVID FITZGERALD

Geoff Maskell

"I quite like when things aren't quite normal and you have to think outside the box and do things a bit differently.

"We've had a few plans cancelled. We were supposed to have a trip to the Canary Islands and then we planned to go to Donegal, but the night before we were due to set off bright and early, Leo Varadkar made all the changes in the south, so that plan was off.

"But we're doing fine. We have a garden, we're not far from a park and we're able to take our dogs, Bryn and Bruce, out for a walk.

"Without a doubt our saving grace over the last few weeks was finding a nursery that was still delivering, so we were able to get a big delivery, which has kept us busy and ticking over with something to do.

"We had beds built with nothing in them, so we were able to plant them.

"Filling up my time otherwise, I've been re-watching Elementary on Amazon Prime. It's great, but that's about the only telly I'm watching.

"Mainly I'm focusing on a course I'm doing online on the ways of tackling climate change. I think it's possible we're living through some of the solutions to problems we really need to figure out.

"I hope what we're living through helps instigate some changes.

"I think it's proved that people can work from home.

"We don't need to travel as much as we have done. Once these restrictions are lifted and the initial excitement of being able to freely see each other and be together as humans wears off, maybe we'll learn that actually we can do things in a different way.

"I think employers might think more creatively about how they run their workforces. We're starting to look up and notice things - planes in the sky and the birdsong.

"These are the things that for so long we haven't noticed because we've been moving so fast we've taken them for granted.

"In our position as weather presenters, the biggest challenge at the minute is getting the tone right because people need sunshine and they still need exercise.

"There's the physical health issue of not transmitting the disease, but there's also the mental health side of getting through this time in one piece.

"Vitamin D and sunshine are still vital, so we've got to get the tone right.

"If the weather is going to be good, we want people to know that, to tell them to make the most of it but to do it sensibly and safely.

"You never want to sound like the fun police, but we've got a responsibility too.

"The whole experience has been a very strong reminder of how important friends and social contact are.

"I had my birthday at the beginning of April and normally it would have been just a meal for two at home.

"But we have such a great circle of friends in our street that we do a cookbook club with them every six or eight weeks.

"This time we cooked the dinner, delivered it round everyone's doorsteps and ate together on a Zoom call.

"It was a virtual birthday celebration, about two weeks into lockdown. It was just the lift everybody needed.

"The first thing I'll do when this is over is go to see my mum where she lives in Nottinghamshire.

"The most difficult thing about all this has been the fact you can't really plan anything, but on the bright side, all those to-do lists fade away and you're forced to really live in the moment.

"So, if the sun is shining, make the most of it. Make a cup of coffee and sit on the step outside. Breathe in and enjoy it."

‘My little home studio is just a duvet propped up with four chairs and me underneath it’

Barra Best

Barra Best (38) has built a makeshift studio at his north Belfast home, where he lives with his partner. As well as turning his hand to a bit of gardening, BBC NI's Barra, who will have been a weatherman 10 years come May, is staying in touch with friends with a virtual quiz every Sunday night.

He says: "It's definitely a strange situation. We're going into the building for the TV weather, but all the radio is being done from home and everyone has had to create their own bespoke studios at home.

"The great thing is that the technology is all there, so we're able to log on to all the systems and forecasts so we can get the stories in our heads before dialling in to the studio, using apps that create a really good-quality sound.

"At home my little studio is a duvet propped up over four chairs, with me sitting underneath it. It means there are no echoes and it works really well.

"I was going to try to fit out the cupboard under the stairs using egg boxes so it sounds like a proper studio, but I haven't got around to that yet.

Barra Best

"Everyone's having to think of new ways of doing things.

"It's making the best of a bad situation. We just have to get on with it because the weather isn't going to stop and people aren't going to stop caring about it.

"I'm coping okay with it all, although it is strange.

"I don't have particularly green fingers when it comes to the garden, but I know I'm lucky to get out to enjoy the weather.

"We all need to stick to the restrictions, but even getting out on the doorstep for a few rays of sunshine is good for you.

"It cheers you up and it's good mentally, even if it's just for a few minutes.

"Working from home was a bit strange at first because I've never really done it.

"Usually in my job you're in a 24/7 working environment, and whether it's 5am or midnight in the office there would be someone around.

"I can get a bit bored now and I have to admit I keep eating, which is not ideal. Literally anything I can get, so the snacks cupboard is gone.

"I'm doing a good bit of exercise though, so it's not too bad.

"I miss the ability to just say to people, 'Will we go to the canteen for a catch-up and a coffee?' You don't realise how important that ordinary social aspect is with your colleagues and friends until you don't have it."

Barra also says he is trying to keep himself fit by taking his dog for walks. "I am keeping busy. We have a dog, Mags, who's a boxer, and I get out for walks with her, although it's short walks around the block," he adds.

"I'm trying to pick the quiet times and I'm sticking to the social distancing rules as much as I can.

"The whole thing is strange.

Barra Best

"Traffic is way quieter, and people are crossing the road to keep their distance, but it's important to do it. One of the positives from my point of view is that I'm getting to know my neighbours.

"I knew my next-door neighbour before, but now we're all out clapping for the NHS every week and we're all able to ask how everyone's keeping.

"One of them ordered an inflatable hot tub, which was brilliant.

"I'm keeping in touch with my family on Facetime and things like that.

"I'm also doing a quiz on a Sunday night on my Facebook page to break up the monotony. It's a nice way to stay in touch.

"I had my birthday during lockdown too and, as I said to my friends, if your birthday happens in lockdown, then officially it didn't happen, so you'll get that birthday again next year."

'I think when all of this is over there will be a rude awakening ... we don't all need to work from an office'

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Frank Mitchell broadcaster and journalist is currently a weather presenter on UTV Live and a presenter on the radio station U105.

Frank Mitchell broadcaster and journalist is currently a weather presenter on UTV Live and a presenter on the radio station U105.

Freddie Parkinson

Frank Mitchell broadcaster and journalist is currently a weather presenter on UTV Live and a presenter on the radio station U105.

UTV weatherman and U105 presenter Frank Mitchell lives in Dunmurry, outside Belfast, with his wife Helena. The 57-year-old is usually a keen walker, but says he has restricted his exercise to stick as closely as he can to the Government's lockdown guidelines.

"Since lockdown began, I have barely any contact with anyone at work. I'm doing my whole radio show from home because I have the technology to do that.

"After that I go into City Quays in Belfast to record the weather forecasts and because of these very specific circumstances I compile and record it all in one go.

"Usually there are lots of people in the building, but now there's hardly anyone. I park up outside and come in a side entrance and the only person I speak to is an engineer in the studio. We're adhering rigidly to social distancing.

"I think when all of this is over there will be a rude awakening for society in terms of employment plans and systems.

"People have often spoken in the past, the Greta Thunbergs of this world and people like her, about how we don't all need to work from an office.

"I think now a lot of employers will notice there are massive savings to be made from people working from home. In five years or a decade I think it will be commonplace to have people at home. There could be a tax allowance to encourage it, or an environmental benefit.

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Frank Mitchell working from home

Frank Mitchell working from home

Frank Mitchell working from home

"I think it could make people more in tune with their families, and families more in tune with the work demands they're facing rather than this tradition we've become used to of people leaving their homes at 7.30am and being gone all day.

"I keep in mind that I'm very lucky. It's just myself and my wife and we have a bit of a garden at home, and we're fine in this very difficult time," he adds.

"For people really going through it, and others living in an apartment or townhouse without much space, it won't be easy.

"Pamela Ballantine has joked with me that with all my years of not being a particularly sociable type - you wouldn't see me in Tatler - that I should be premier league level with all this social distancing," Frank says.

"One thing that has been a nuisance is that my daughter Laura lives over in Newcastle upon Tyne, and we haven't been able to see her.

"We had planned to go over twice, and both of those plans were scuppered. Then she had planned to come here for Easter with her boyfriend but that couldn't happen.

"It's usually so convenient to get back and forth, and it is a bit frustrating that we now have this inability to do what we could do with ease just a couple of months ago.

"I love walking, hill walking especially, but I think it's wrong to carry on doing that. I could go out on a 10-mile walk, but that's not right at the minute.

"In terms of exercise, I'm sticking to the garden.

"We have a holiday home in Donegal and we were so looking forward to being there for Easter but we had to absolutely say no because the rules are there for a very good reason.

"I'm there telling people that it's vital to adhere to the rules, so I'm sticking to them rigidly myself. If you've got a microphone and a platform, you've got a platform to get that important message out there on behalf of NHS frontline staff, the nurses and doctors, the hospital cleaners who are doing such vital work.

"My job is simple. All I have to do is remind people of the rules, and I'll happily take every opportunity to do that. You get a bit of a backlash from grump heads on Twitter, but the vast majority of people are sticking to it brilliantly.

"As someone galloping through life, one group of people I think deserve immense praise are the young people who love to be out and about socialising and meeting people. I really admire them that they're sticking to it rigidly, because it must be driving them up the wall.

"There's always the social media option, of course, but that's no substitute for a walk in the moonlight."

‘Hearing what the weather is doing, especially if it’s good news, makes a welcome difference’

Cecilia Daly

Cecilia Daly became a weather presenter at BBC NI years after working as a meteorologist with the Met Office. She lives in Ballyhackamore, east Belfast, with her partner Simon Flanagan and black labrador Pedro.

"These are very strange times, but I think sometimes that the weather brings a bit of normality for people because it still goes on, no matter what.

"And even though we might not be able to go out and enjoy it as much as we usually do, hearing what the weather is doing, especially if it's good news, makes a welcome difference from all the very sad stuff we're hearing all the time at the minute.

"It's strange for us at the minute, too, because in normal circumstances, as soon as things start to improve like they do at this time of the year, we're able to say, 'go out, enjoy yourselves, enjoy the sun'.

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Cecilia and her partner Simon Flanagan

Cecilia and her partner Simon Flanagan

Cecilia and her partner Simon Flanagan

"But right now of course we just can't do it.

"You have to really think about what you're going to say, and remind people that while it's good news there's some sunshine and things are looking positive, that we all have to follow the guidelines and only go out for your exercise or when we have to get something.

"It's difficult, though. It's a fine line we're treading and we know it's harder on some people than others, people without a garden or much outside space.

"Even with the restrictions, though, it's important for people to know how things are because if you're standing in a queue outside the chemist or the shop, there's nothing worse than getting stuck standing in the rain, so people need to know what's going on.

"One of the biggest challenges for me in all this is that we're now working from home part of the time, which is something I've never done before. For the TV we're in the studio but for our radio slots on Good Morning Ulster and Evening Extra, we're at home.

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Cecilia Daly working from home with pup Pedro

Cecilia Daly working from home with pup Pedro

Cecilia Daly working from home with pup Pedro

"I was quite nervous initially. Technology freaks me out until I have a go at it, but once I had a couple of runs through I was grand.

"My partner Simon actually cleared the box room for me without being asked, which was pretty amazing, and he set me up a sort of studio-stroke-office, which has been a lifesaver.

"I know lots of people are working from home at the minute so I almost feel a bit more connected with the audience in some ways, because it's as if they're a bit more forgiving if it's not quite a perfect broadcast.

"It feels like the fact we're all human and trying our best in difficult circumstances is coming to the fore a bit more, and you're seeing and hearing it more and more with kids, or in my case animals, in the background."

Belfast Telegraph