Churches rally to aid flood victims

by
25 July 2007

by Pat Ashworth

Surrounded: floodwater around St Michael’s, Tirley, near Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire

Surrounded: floodwater around St Michael’s, Tirley, near Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire

CHURCHES became places of hospitality and sanctuary at the height of the weekend floods. The area hardest hit was Gloucestershire, where Tewkesbury Abbey became a beacon and rallying point for townspeople as well as providing food and makeshift accommodation for stranded travellers.

Traffic in torrential rain was already at a standstill by 6 p.m. on Friday, prompting Canon Paul Williams to go to the borough council offices and offer the Abbey as a refuge. Up to 50 people slept in the abbey itself and a further 100 in the parish hall, and abbey staff and volunteers dispensed tea and coffee at the roadside.

The floods started with a vengeance on Sunday, turning Tewkesbury into an island cut off at either side of the A38. Despite water now lapping at the abbey itself, all services were held, including one outside on the street. “People were coming to worship with us who never had before. It was fantastic,” said Canon Williams. The abbey had been “a place for having a group hug, really, and just being able to talk to each other”. It also became the town’s information point.

Forty people had turned up “out of nowhere” to fill sandbags on Sunday, including some who had been stranded since Friday, said Philippa Shaw, the abbey’s administrator and executive officer. With food in the refectory kitchen in need of using up, she cooked an enormous curry for 80 marooned people on Sunday evening, and fed a further 40 on Monday, “as a way of saying thank-you to everyone who’s helped”.

Water entered the abbey for the first time since 1760, but remained shallow as it spread along the stone floor. Flood damage to parishioners’ homes and businesses has been severe. “All the people are safe — that’s the main thing,” said Ms Shaw. “That’s quite amazing, considering how many houses there are, and how big an area is covered.”

Ms Shaw said on Wednesday that the Abbey will be unable to stage the annual Musica Deo Sacra festival, to have started on Sunday, because of the lack of mains water. Any enquries to the Abbey on 01684 850959.

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Water entered the abbey for the first time since 1760, but remained shallow as it spread along the stone floor. Flood damage to parishioners’ homes and businesses has been severe. “All the people are safe — that’s the main thing,” said Ms Shaw. “That’s quite amazing, considering how many houses there are, and how big an area is covered.”

Ms Shaw said on Wednesday that the Abbey will be unable to stage the annual Musica Deo Sacra festival, to have started on Sunday, because of the lack of mains water. Any enquries to the Abbey on 01684 850959.

Ashleworth and Hasfield churches were both under water, and the church school and centre were flooded out at Moreton-in-Marsh. The Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Michael Perham, himself without power and water on Monday, described people as shocked but also bemused by the nature of the flooding.

“One place can be totally devastated and therefore you feel you are in the middle of a crisis, and then you walk not very far away and life looks normal,” he said. “You’re getting a little bit of the Dunkirk spirit, but I think there’s a sort of bemusement about it all really.” The local press carried a prayer written by Bishop Perham, including the line: “Help us to live in harmony with the laws of nature”.

Dramatic pictures from Upton on Severn — where flood defences themselves remained stuck in the traffic — showed the church and spire sticking out of the surrounding water. The Revd Jeff Radcliffe and and the Revd Rosie Radcliffe used beds made up for visiting family stranded in traffic to put up rescued parishioners who had lost everything.

“The army arrived, evacuated vulnerable people, and brought milk and bread to our tiny Co-op. We’re acting as an information point — it’s a number a lot of people think to call, particularly from outside the area,” she said.

Mrs Radcliffe echoed the Bishop’s feeling of unreality. “We are safe and dry and have water and power. I’m standing out looking at my garden, and you wouldn’t know that anything was the matter. But there’s water at the bottom of the drive and people in canoes. . . it’s a very surreal experience.”

Mr Radcliffe said that a sense almost of fun and adventure on Sunday, when a flooded-out pub hosted an impromptu street party, had given way on Monday to “sadness and realisation” at the consequences of the floods.

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Mr Radcliffe said that a sense almost of fun and adventure on Sunday, when a flooded-out pub hosted an impromptu street party, had given way on Monday to “sadness and realisation” at the consequences of the floods.

This was a time not for comment, but for compassion, said the Bishop of Worcester, Dr Peter Selby. “My prayers are with everyone in the affected places at this difficult time. . . My heart goes out to all those who are suffering so much.”

St Michael’s, Broadway, opened at 10.30 p.m. on Friday for travellers redirected off the motorway, providing makeshift beds for around 50 people.

“Some were en route to Bristol airport to go on holiday; some on their way home; we had an 85-year old, a baby in arms, and a Jack Russell,” said one parishioner. “They arrived in shock, and some of them completely lost, not even knowing where they were. They were amazed and thankful that the church was open.”

Clergy “mucked in brilliantly” despite damage to their own homes and churches. A Broadway restaurant served up a cauldron of watercress soup in the church, with a freezer bag of desserts destined for Waitrose provided by a stranded sales rep.

Weddings in Hereford had some memorable hitches. Charlotte Slocombe and Ben Andrew married in Colwall near Worcester, without the bridegroom’s parents and 50 of the guests. In torrential rain, the wedding-party remnant was unable to reach the reception, and ended up at the bride’s parents’ home near Malvern, where the guests dined on drinks and nibbles from the supermarket and 55 pizzas from the takeaway.

Marden and Bodenham churches were under water. Hereford’s clergy emergency-response team, co-ordinated by the diocesan social-responsibility officer, Jackie Boys, went into action to help out at Hereford leisure centre, where residents from an old people’s home were temporarily evacuated after the Lugg broke its banks. Donations of almost £2000 for emergency relief came in to a local charitable trust in Ludlow run by the parish church.

Churches badly affected in Oxfordshire included Witney, Bampton, and Standlake. The picturesque medieval wool church at Burford found itself under water, while the tiny church of Wasing in Berkshire housed refuges from The Glade rock festival. In Coventry diocese, 100 homes were reported flooded in Alcester and a further 50 in Bidford on Avon. The director for social responsibility, the Revd John Hall, said that the devastation left behind would take a long time to overcome. It had been “an exhausting weekend for emergency services and local authorities”.

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London diocese’s Care of Churches team issued immediate advice on flooding in churches. The Ecclesiastical Insurance Group (EIG) was itself at the centre of flooding in Gloucester city centre, as surrounding roads were thrown into chaos and staff were unable to get in to work. EIG has had about 140 church claims since June, and flood damage would be in the region of hundreds of thousands of pounds, said Chris Pitt, a spokesman for EIG, on Tuesday.

“The flooding is so bad no one has been able to get to the affected churches — we know that Tirley in Gloucestershire is completely submerged almost to the height of the porch,” he said. “We haven’t been able to get access, and it’s likely to be some time until the flood waters subside. Unfortunately, with no power and clean water, the clean-up process is likely to be even more challenging.” Churches in need of advice and assistance are advised to phone EIG’s claims number: 0845 6038381.

Farming areas have been affected. Crops have been destroyed when the farmers should have been harvesting them, and animal food crops are in danger of being in short supply in the winter. Canon Glyn Evans, Oxford diocesan rural officer and a co-ordinator of the Farm Crisis Network, has been offering support for the rural community; and as part of the Churches’ response to the problems affecting the farming community, the Arthur Rank Centre’s ARC-Addington Fund, in conjunction with the other members of the Farming Help Partnership, is again administering a hardship fund, with immediate effect. Anyone seeking help should phone the Farming Help number: 07002 326 326. The partnership announced last week that it has made its first batch of payments to farmers affected by floods.

The Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Revd Jack Nicholls, paid tribute in the House of Lords on Monday to voluntary organisations such as the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, and the St John Ambulance. “We are beginning to pick up some of the pieces in Sheffield, and look towards what might happen in the future.” He reported £20 million of business lost by companies such as Sheffield Forgemasters as a result of the earlier floods.



He warned: “Coupled with the strength of the pound, many manufacturers in our part of the world will perhaps be permanently damaged by what has happened. It is my hope that, in these emergencies, the Government will think well enough in advance about what might happen.”

In Hull, the worst-affected area of the June floods, the number of flooded homes was estimated on Tuesday to be 6500. They include homes in socially deprived areas such as Bransholme, one of the biggest estates in Europe. Insurers have received 9000 claims from the Hull postal area, and estimates put the number of uninsured Hull victims at about 2000.

There remains a lack of property to rent while houses are drying out, even for those who can afford it. Many have resorted to living in caravans, traditionally made in Hull. “They’re afraid that if they walk away from their house, someone else will walk in,” said the Area Dean of West Hull, the Revd Allen Bagshawe. “Being uninsured is a problem of poverty: you can’t be critical of the decision they have to make.”

There were now anxieties about insurance companies putting huge excesses for flood damage, he said.  Flooded-out schools, too, were facing turmoil: those, including special schools, destined to close in five years’ time, now needed rebuilding. Some children had no idea where they would start in September.

St Mildred’s, Whippingham, and St James’s, East Cowes, on the Isle of Wight, have responded to the “national disaster” and called for congregations throughout the UK to focus in prayer and in services on Sunday on communities affected by the floods. The service at St Mildred’s is at 11.15 a.m., and the service at St James’s is at 9.30 a.m.

Farming areas have been affected. Crops have been destroyed when the farmers should have been harvesting them, and animal food crops are in danger of being in short supply in the winter. Canon Glyn Evans, Oxford diocesan rural officer and a co-ordinator of the Farm Crisis Network, has been offering support for the rural community; and as part of the Churches’ response to the problems affecting the farming community, the Arthur Rank Centre’s ARC-Addington Fund, in conjunction with the other members of the Farming Help Partnership, is again administering a hardship fund, with immediate effect. Anyone seeking help should phone the Farming Help number: 07002 326 326. The partnership announced last week that it has made its first batch of payments to farmers affected by floods.

The Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Revd Jack Nicholls, paid tribute in the House of Lords on Monday to voluntary organisations such as the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, and the St John Ambulance. “We are beginning to pick up some of the pieces in Sheffield, and look towards what might happen in the future.” He reported £20 million of business lost by companies such as Sheffield Forgemasters as a result of the earlier floods.



He warned: “Coupled with the strength of the pound, many manufacturers in our part of the world will perhaps be permanently damaged by what has happened. It is my hope that, in these emergencies, the Government will think well enough in advance about what might happen.”

In Hull, the worst-affected area of the June floods, the number of flooded homes was estimated on Tuesday to be 6500. They include homes in socially deprived areas such as Bransholme, one of the biggest estates in Europe. Insurers have received 9000 claims from the Hull postal area, and estimates put the number of uninsured Hull victims at about 2000.

There remains a lack of property to rent while houses are drying out, even for those who can afford it. Many have resorted to living in caravans, traditionally made in Hull. “They’re afraid that if they walk away from their house, someone else will walk in,” said the Area Dean of West Hull, the Revd Allen Bagshawe. “Being uninsured is a problem of poverty: you can’t be critical of the decision they have to make.”

There were now anxieties about insurance companies putting huge excesses for flood damage, he said.  Flooded-out schools, too, were facing turmoil: those, including special schools, destined to close in five years’ time, now needed rebuilding. Some children had no idea where they would start in September.

St Mildred’s, Whippingham, and St James’s, East Cowes, on the Isle of Wight, have responded to the “national disaster” and called for congregations throughout the UK to focus in prayer and in services on Sunday on communities affected by the floods. The service at St Mildred’s is at 11.15 a.m., and the service at St James’s is at 9.30 a.m.

The Bishop of Gloucester's prayer

Creator God, hear our prayer.

As we look with dismay on the floods across our country,

we ask you to look with compassion on all who are suffering,

on those whose homes are spoilt,

those whose livelihood is threatened.

We thank you for acts of courage and of kindness

and pray a blessing on all who rescue and relieve.

And, when the floods have gone, guide us to learn lessons.

Help us to live in harmony and with the laws of nature

and in reverence for a creation

you have made to be very good.

Creator God, hear our prayer.

The Bishop of Gloucester's prayer

Creator God, hear our prayer.

As we look with dismay on the floods across our country,

we ask you to look with compassion on all who are suffering,

on those whose homes are spoilt,

those whose livelihood is threatened.

We thank you for acts of courage and of kindness

and pray a blessing on all who rescue and relieve.

And, when the floods have gone, guide us to learn lessons.

Help us to live in harmony and with the laws of nature

and in reverence for a creation

you have made to be very good.

Creator God, hear our prayer.

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