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Rector thanks community for ‘heart-warming’ response to flooding in Yorkshire

06 March 2020

Church in East Yorkshire village acts as relief-operation centre

The Revd Eleanor Robertshaw

East Cowick, in East Yorkshire, is swamped by up to nine feet of water

East Cowick, in East Yorkshire, is swamped by up to nine feet of water

THE community spirit of people affected by unprecedented levels of flooding has been praised by the rector of their parish.

Almost 70 homes in the village of East Cowick, in East Yorkshire, were swamped by up to nine feet of water when torrential rain forced the River Aire to break its banks, last week.

Almost immediately, the Revd Eleanor Robertshaw, Team Rector in the Great Snaith team ministry, in Sheffield diocese, found herself at the centre of a relief operation, based in St Laurence’s Priory, Snaith, which continues today.

Allchurches TrustSupplies are taken in at St Cuthbert’s, Fishlake, in south Yorkshire, last year, when the church was hit by floods. It has now received a grant of £2500 from the Allchurches Trust to help the costs of its flood-relief-support operation

“The response has been amazing,” she said. “Everybody has pitched up and helped where they can. They were just really desperate to help. On occasions, we had too many volunteers and had to turn some away: our kitchen couldn’t physically cope with more than five people at a time. Now we have a system with a rota. I started overseeing everything, but now I have been able to delegate; so I can get on with my regular duties. As a vicar, I have to organise all sorts of things, but this was a bit different.”

She told how people who had been flooded out of their houses or lost businesses in East Cowick and Snaith had come to the priory with donations because they wanted to help those who had helped them. “It was heart-warming,” she said. “It made me cry. Children at Snaith Primary school wrote thank-you cards to the emergency services and made some beautiful bunting for the church about working as a team. The overriding theme is that folk are just pulling together; we are making friends for life, which, I think, is just wonderful.”

On Tuesday of last week, she spoke of being called back from a bishop’s lecture by a warning that flooding was on its way to her parishes, which lie in the flood plain where the Rivers Aire and Ouse meet and flow into the Humber estuary.

“We opened the priory about midday,” she said. “It started as a place where people could pop in for a cup of tea; then people started dropping off donations of food and clothing. For the first two nights, it was a rest centre for people who had been evacuated. The kitchen efforts absolutely spiralled, providing 24-hour food and drinks. The emergency services are using it for breaks and to be fed and watered, East Riding Council staff are based here, and the Fire Service use it to sleep in when they were on call. It’s been the hub where everyone has come. It has been full on, with volunteers manning it 24/7.”

The countryside surrounding her benefice is intended to flood when the Aire is in spate, but the Environment Agency (EA) has admitted that the levels of water have never been seen before.

Mrs Robertshaw said that the situation in East Cowick was “just horrific”. “You can’t believe the amount of water that is there. It has copped it really badly. People who have bungalows where the water is up to the roofline are talking about whether they are going to have to demolish them and start again. Parts of my parish have flooded in the past, but nothing like this. Apparently, there are 38 cells in the washland which fill consecutively. We are the last one. After that, there is just nowhere else for the water to go.

The Revd Eleanor Robertshaw

“It’s got to be global warming, hasn’t it? Now people are worried that this is going to be a regular feature. There is a lot of anger about the idea that protection measures upstream mean the water gets forced down to us. The EA say that is not what happens, but people here don’t believe them.” A public meeting on Monday night revealed a great deal of distress and anger. “People felt they had not been warned,” Mrs Robertshaw said. “People are devastated.”

This week, the water had dropped slightly, but it will be some time before it has all gone. “Then it’s the long haul,” she said. “People will be out of their houses for a year or more. We will keep on doing what we are doing until the need has gone.”

One of those who was forced to take refuge at the priory was Katie Cuckoo, who was married there six weeks earlier. She told the Daily Mail: “It was just surreal. It was so strange being back at the church. The last time I was here was my wedding day, when I was done up to my eyeballs, and then I was back in looking a mess, because I had been evacuated. My parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents all got married here; so it’s special to me.”

The Conservative MP for Brigg and Goole, Andrew Percy, called on the Government to review how it allocated flood-defence funding. He said: “There has been a record level of rainfall, but it is becoming more normal, and we need to look at how we need to manage flood resources in the country. Simply having all the water landing here at the bottom of the catchment isn’t ideal.”

The clear-up operation in the lower Aire catchment is just one of scores going on around northern England, the Midlands, and Wales, as Britain continues to experience one of its wettest and warmest winters on record. England had had more than three times its average February rainfall, the EA said. Met Office figures released this week show that the country has experienced an average total of 469.7mm of rain since December.

The Revd Eleanor RobertshawFood donations pile up in St Laurence’s Priory, Snaith

The Allchurches Trust is offering grants to church communities that have affected by flooding to help pay for additional church heating, lighting, and cleaning, food and drink for flood victims, and emergency response teams and community-focused initiatives. Payments for flooding last December included £600 for St Peter’s Bentley, in South Yorkshire, and £2500 to St Cuthbert’s, Fishlake, in South Yorkshire.

The chairman of the trust that owns Ecclesiastical Insurance, Tim Carroll, said: “We know that churches across the UK are playing a vital role in the emergency response to the recent flooding, providing much needed practical and emotional support. We hope that our funding can help cover the additional costs they will have incurred as a result, and enable them to continue their efforts in supporting their local communities in this time of great need.”

In addition, the company that runs Drax power station near Selby, North Yorkshire, has given £25,000 to help neighbouring communities to recover from the flood. The chief executive of Drax Group, Will Gardiner, said that the effects had been “devastating”. He added: “It’s important that those who have lost their home or business get the support that they need.”

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