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Belco Kiteman set to retire

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Family men: outgoing Belco Kiteman Cornell Dunkley, left, his grandson, Knox, and son, Sean, at Warwick Academy, where he presented last month (Photograph contributed)

A Belco employee who taught children safe kite flying is to retire after 50 years with the firm.

Cornell Dunkley, known as the Belco Kiteman, will stand down in July after 36 years in charge of a schools safety campaign.

Mr Dunkley, a lineman, carried out his last set of safety workshops with a group of youngsters last month, which included his grandson, Knox, a pupil at Warwick Academy.

The talk came 30 years after he spoke to his son in a similar setting. Mr Dunkley said: “I didn’t show the emotion, but it was emotional when I had done my grandson’s school because my son came. It was like ‘wow’. I had done his dad 30 years ago. It was a very special moment.”

Mr Dunkley started safety lessons in schools after a string of power cuts in the kite-flying season.

Belco decided there was a need for someone from the grid operations department to speak to children and Mr Dunkley stepped up to the plate.

He said: “Back then, during kite-flying time we had plenty of power outages. We had many many power outages due to kite flying.”

Mr Dunkley worked with advertising associates to put together an education programme.

He said: “We wanted to inform people that it wasn’t a good idea to be trying to retrieve the kites themselves by pulling on the strings.”

Mr Dunkley added pupils at all the schools on the island were included when he started the programme.

But, because of time constraints, over the years the programme was targeted at pupils in the early years of primary school. Mr Dunkley’s high profile in newspaper and TV safety campaigns earned him the nickname of “The Belco Kiteman”.

He said “married men and women” he spoke to when they were children still remembered him as the kiteman.

Mr Dunkley added love for children motivated him to visit schools to speak about kite safety. He said the lessons included a slide presentation and speaking to the children about safety equipment used by linemen.

He added: “The way they absorbed it and listened and the questions they asked, it’s just priceless to see them wanting the knowledge.”

Mr Dunkley, who dressed in his hard hat and boots along with safety belt and other safety clothing, said the lessons captivated the attention of students across the country.

He added: “The children just run up to me and they just want to hug and they just want to give me all their stories about the experiences they have had with kites.”

He said: “I love children and what gives me the encouragement to continue on with it is to keep them safe. Keeping them safe was our main goal.”

Mr Dunkley added one of the things he always stressed was the need to avoid downed power lines. He said he only missed one year because of a broken ankle.

Mr Dunkley added he was prepared to continue running the schools campaign if asked.

He said he had started out at the company as a summer employee in the mailroom and transferred to the power plant when he was offered a full-time post.

The Belco Kiteman during one of his annual school visit (File photograph)