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Insurers assess wind and flood damage to churches

21 February 2014

by a staff reporter


INSURERS are counting the cost of storm-related damage to church buildings, which early estimates have put at more than £3 million.

As the floods begin to subside in some areas, insurance assessors are weighing up the damage caused by high winds and floodwater.

Last week's gales and rain sent a stone pinnacle crashing through the roof of Rotherham Minster. Debris was scattered over the choir aisles, but the area was empty at the time, the Vicar of Rotherham, Canon David Bliss, said.

"We were very thankful that no one was injured, and that the incident occurred some time on Wednesday afternoon, when the minster was closed and no one was in the building. It is estimated that it will cost in the order of £20,000to repair, and take two to three months."

On the same evening, gale-force winds lifted the lead roofing from a Lincolnshire church, damaging the external walls. The Priest-in-Charge of St Peter's, Foston, near Grantham, the Revd Harriet Orridge, said that the church had suffered "extensive" damage.

Ecclesiastical Insurance said that it had received more than 500 claims so far, but the figure was rising steadily. Total claims had amounted to about £3 million to date, a spokesman said. Nationally, all insurance claims for flood- and storm-related damage were expected to top £1 billion.

Several villages in the Somerset Levels are still cut off by floodwater, after seven weeks. Some parts of the Levels that had so far been dry have this week experienced flooding.

The Associate Vicar in the Alfred Jewel benefice, the Revd Phil Denison, said that the village of North Newton was now partially under water, although water levels elsewhere had dropped a few millimetres. "Though we haven't had a day without any rain, people are grateful when we see the sun. They are in good spirits, as well as they can be, and they seem to appreciate the care the churches are showing," he said.

In other areas, emergency flood-measures appear to have saved Winchester Cathedral, although its crypt has had floodwater a metre high - a frequent occurrencein heavy rain. The Environment Agency had partially dammed the River Itchen, and created artificial lakes to divert floodwater, a scheme that appears to have saved the city.

The Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Michael Perham, visited flooded churches in his diocese, including Ashleworth, which currently can be reached only through a chicken barn on a neighbour's field. He said that reactions to the flooding were "inspiring". "It has been a devastating time for the many people who have been affected by the floods. It was important for me to see first-hand how this had impacted people's lives, their properties, and churches."

The level of floodwater along the Thames was receding this week, after the heavy rain gave way to showers. Churches were involved in helping those who were being evacuated from their homes.

The Vicar of St John the Baptist, Egham, the Revd Jeff Wattley, who is a trained sailor, visited parishioners by boat. The church sent out letters to all villagers offering help and prayer, and its community café, The Kitchen, situated on the high street, offered food and drinks.

The parish of Busbridge and Hambledon, in Surrey, has given a church house to a family of six who were forced out of their home by floodwater. The church hall has been handed over to emergency workers for accommodation, and parishioners provided food.

The Church Urban Fund has also launched an emergency flood fund to help meet the "ongoing needs" of people after the floodwater has receded.


ON 20 July 2007, two months' worth of rain fell in 14 hours on the town of Tewkesbury (News, 27 July 2007), writes Madeleine Davies.  More than 1800 homes were flooded, and three people died. This week, the Vicar of Tewkesbury, Canon Paul Williams, and his wife, the Revd Catherine Williams, offered some advice to those minis­tering in areas affected by the floods.

They warned of the long-term effects, mental-health issues, recur­ring nightmares, and physical ailments, and also described the heroism of local people, and the partnerships forged between churches and other agencies: "We had often talked about community, and we thought we lived it, but it was only under duress that we truly experienced it."

Pictures of Tewkesbury Abbey, surrounded by water but rising above it (above), became "a testa­ment to survival and an icon of hope", they said. Communi­ties had been reminded that "we are a part of creation, and not above it." Biblical texts and images of water had been "potent and helpful in moving us forward".

They advised those ministering in the floods
to keep a "corporate, public, daily rhythm of prayer"; listen to people's stories; co-ordi­nate offers of help; and create "liturgical op­por­tunities to lament, journey, and celebrate". It was also useful to create a list of counsellors, and learn about post-traumatic stress disorder.

For further suggestions, email vicar@tewkesburyabbey.org.uk.



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