PARISHIONERS in a village inundated during the flooding in South Yorkshire last weekend defied orders to evacuate their homes, and turned their church into a command centre to tackle the crisis.
“It’s been a pretty traumatic experience,” a churchwarden of St Cuthbert’s, Fishlake, near Doncaster, Peter Pridham, said. Disaster struck last Friday night when the River Don burst its banks. “It just exploded like a tidal wave into the village,” he said. “It’s a great mercy that no one was killed. Half the village evacuated, but the rest of us simply refused to go. No more help was being offered by Doncaster Council, and there has been quite a bit of looting; so we decided as a community to stay put and fight it out.
“The church has acted as a focal point for that. We have kept it open 24/7 since early Friday evening. The police have used it as a place of respite, with hot water and so on. St Cuthbert’s is on slightly higher ground, as is the Hare and Hounds pub next door, which has also done a wonderful job. People have been sleeping there.”
The church also became a foodbank for the village. “We had a wonderful response to the request for food and clothing for those whose homes are flooded,” said Mr Pridham. “We have been getting supplies out in the bucket of a tractor to people in more remote areas.”
On Wednesday, however, in a bid to keep roads in Fishlake clear for emergency vehicles, the resource centre was moved to St Lawrence’s, in the neighbouring village of Hatfield. The Vicar there, the Revd Liz Turner-Loisel, who is also Area Dean, has launched an appeal for cash to help the people of Fishlake and the neighbouring hamlets of Kirk Bramwith and Sykehouse, which have also been affected. Account details can be obtained by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SWNSDonated food around the font in Fishlake Church earlier this week
Fishlake became the centre of international media attention after visits by figures from the main political parties. Both the Liberal Democrat leader, Jo Swinson, and the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, accused the Government of failing to declare a national emergency.
Mr Pridham said, however, that they were not “in the blame game. . . We are just trying to sort the situation out. The villagers of Fishlake and the congregation of St Cuthbert’s are tremendously grateful for all the kind donations and Christian comfort which has been provided. We give thanks to God for his mercy that no one was killed or drowned when the floods came through.
“The Environment Agency has come up trumps, with five heavy-duty pumps and six smaller ones, and more on the way. Draining the swamp is going to be a major operation. Levels are dropping little by little, but there are millions of cubic metres of The first of the evacuated villagers returned on Tuesday. “They said it has been utterly destroyed,” Mr Pridham said. “They are devastated, but pragmatic. They have nowhere to go, and are searching for rented accommodation. An emotional tidal-wave will come as the evacuees return. Pastoral care and counselling will be made available.”
More than a month’s rain fell in 24 hours between Thursday and Friday of last week, causing the River Don to top its banks in Sheffield and Rotherham, and in Doncaster, which suffered similar flooding in 2007.
PAEmergency services in Bentley, Doncaster, on Tuesday
Ms Turner-Loisel said on Wednesday that her church had stepped in because St Cuthbert’s was overwhelmed with gifts. “They already have so much there. We are also trying to target what they need now, rather than what they want next week. The big thing now is money and cleaning products for when people go back home.
“Loads of Just Giving pages are popping up all over the place, but you are never quite sure which of them are bona fide; so we are looking after the financial appeal. I have had calls from clergy all over the country wanting to help. We will do it through our church account, which we feel is much safer.”
Details of how to donate can be found on the church’s Facebook page Hatfield St Lawrence.
She also appealed for supplies for the foodbank in the neighbouring village of Stainforth to stock it up for Christmas, as it had been exhausted. “Stainforth and Fishlake have traditionally not got on very well, because Fishlake is full of quite wealthy people, and Stainforth is an impoverished area; so it’s interesting that Stainforth has helped them. It has been quite moving: there are good things coming out of this as well as all the bad ones”
The Revd Stephen Dickinson, Vicar of St Philip and St James, New Bentley, for 25 years: “It was the return of a situation I hoped I’d never see again. It’s not as bad as 2007, but the really sad thing is that it has got into the same people’s homes as it did back then. It’s not as extensive, but the memories are there, and there is a real anxiety among parishioners that its going to be like last time.
“It has opened the scars of those memories which had healed and they had put behind them. Now, it has brought it all back. As far as I am aware, no one has actually had to leave their homes, but some may be staying with relatives. Doncaster council has spent lots of money improving flood defences since 2007, and I think without that it would have been much worse.”
St Luke’s was also affected by rain getting through the roof. “I walked in for mass in the morning, and was showered with wet plaster from the ceiling,” he said.
In the neighbouring parish of St John the Baptist, Edlington, the Vicar, the Revd Stephen Edmonds, had to deal with a flooded basement boiler-house. “It was under five foot of water on Thursday, but is now under slightly less,” he said last Friday afternoon. “I believe it was installed in 2007, after the last flood, with a sump pump, but the sheer volume of water overwhelmed it. It will have to be replaced. However, we have come off very lightly compared to others whose homes have been affected.”
PAFishlake at the height of the flooding last weekend
In the East Midlands, tributes were paid by church leaders to Annie Hall, who chaired Derby Cathedral Council and was a former High Sheriff. She was swept to her death in Darley Dale, near Matlock.
The Acting Dean of Derby, Canon Elizabeth Thomson, described her death as “sad and shocking”. “Annie was a great friend to the cathedral, and she brought there, as to so much that she did, energy, warmth, and spirit. We knew how she tackled everything before her with commitment and great heart. Our prayers are with her and her family, and with all who have been affected by the recent flooding.”
The Bishop of Derby, the Rt Revd Libby Lane, said: “I am shocked and saddened by this tragic news. The pain and grief of Annie’s death is felt by the whole community at Derby Cathedral and throughout the diocese of Derby. My prayers are with her family at this very sad time.
“Annie’s faithful professionalism, supportive nature, and wonderful sense of humour meant she was much appreciated as chair of Derby Cathedral Council.
“Throughout Derbyshire, Annie was known for her personable and caring character, and for bringing laughter wherever she went. She will be much missed. Derby Cathedral, and the diocese of Derby, will continue to pray for Annie’s family, and for all those affected by the flooding, offering support and help where we can.”
The Bishop of Repton, the Rt Revd Jan McFarlane, posted a message on Twitter: “Shocked and deeply saddened at this tragedy. Annie was bright and vivacious; a great supporter of our Cathedral and County. Praying for Michael and family. May she rest in peace.”
The Prime Minister visited the flooded area on Wednesday. One woman told him: “I’m not very happy about talking to you; so, if you don’t mind, I’ll just mope on with what I’m doing. . . I don’t know what you’re here today for.” Another resident told him: “You’ve took your time Boris, haven’t you?”, to which Mr Johnson replied: “We’ve been on it round the clock.”
Later, Mr Johnson told reporters: “I perfectly understand how people feel, and you can understand the anguish a flood causes.The shock of seeing your property engulfed by water is huge, and also the anxiety of what may still be to come; and I do thank the emergency services for everything they are doing.”
St George’s, an Anglican church in Venice, which is in an area not normally affected by flooding, had eight inches of water in the nave.
“It went as it came, leaving only a very thin covering of sand”, the Chaplain, Canon Malcolm Bradshaw, said on Thursday. “No structural damage was done, other than salty water in the walls and the floor. When they dry out, salt crystals form and crack open the masonry.” The kitchen and dining area of the chaplain’s house were also 13 inches deep in water.
He described walking through Venice on Thursday as “a sad experience”. “On the pavements alongside the canals could be seen small boats that had slipped their moorings and were damaged, broken branches from trees, fallen plaster and brick work from sides of buildings, and debris large and small thrown up by the sea.
“Some vaporetto (water bus) stops were closed, having been rendered unsafe by the storm that accompanied the flooding. Small-shop owners were hard at work attending to their soiled stock, hosing down the floor, cleaning furniture and the shop window. Coffee shops, even in St Mark’s Square, were closed to business while staff attended to the harm done by the flood.”