How spending a penny can save you pennies

25th January 2008 at 00:00
Meet the toilet wifie

Flushed with success

Now spending a penny costs less

Eagle-eyed headteacher Lilian Wark saved taxpayers a fortune when she realised how much money was being flushed down the toilet at her Caithness primary school. The thrifty head has the janitor noting down readings for electricity and water every week at Pulteneytown Academy Primary in Wick. Whenever bills begin to rise, Lilian is on the prowl for ways of cutting back.

And now she's won Innovation of the Year award from Highland Council for her latest money-saving strategy to conserve water in her school's urinals, saving pound;1,600 annually. "It's embarrassing," laughs the head, who has taught at the Wick primary school for the past 17 years. "I've given 30 years of my life to education and I am going to be remembered as the toilet wifie."

The council is set to implement her idea at older schools and public toilets, saving around pound;145,000 a year by installing sensors in urinals to save water.

"We were paying too much, decided to investigate and realised that these toilets were flushing all the time, day and night. It's a urinal and the water's turned on so they flush every so many minutes," Lilian explains. "So we turn it off at 6 at night when the cleaners have finished and it's turned on again at 8 in the morning.

"It had two effects. Not only did it save water, it meant our toilets were a lot cleaner, because when the cleaners cleaned them at night, instead of the chemicals they were using getting flushed away in seconds, they got the chance to work before being flushed away next morning," she says. "The children are very conscious of saving water now, although we do make sure that they do flush the toilets when they go. Hygiene is more important than water saving."

Lilian admits she has had her eye on the pennies for a long time. "A few years ago I saved the authority quite a bit of money for electricity because, with bills being paid centrally, we had been paying for a meter that had been taken out for quite a few years. I pursued it like a dog with a bone until eventually they gave us back a lot of money from the electricity bill.

"I get my janitor to read the electric meters every week and we have a book where we write it down, so I can keep an eye on it. And if it starts to creep up, I go around switching lights off and things like that. So when we got our water meter in, I started doing the same for that and he reads it every week."

After Lilian won a pound;660 prize for Highland Council's staff incentive scheme award, the business management team put her forward for a Quality Award, which won her the Innovation of the Year category and a framed picture of the River Ness.

And thrift isn't Lilian's only virtue. After winning the money, she donated it to the fund for her school's Eco Schools award bid.

But Lilian's at a loss now as to where she can scrimp next. "I've been here 17 years and when I came we used over 54,000 litres of oil a year. I have got it down to about 35,000. I can't save any more - I can't. I go on courses and they say 'you've got to save more' and I say 'I cannie do any more - I've gone as low as I can go.' I'm kind of tight-fisted, I think. My mother brought me up like that; not to waste."

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