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Bishop’s house is among those flooded by Storm Babet

23 October 2023

Churches and church halls were among the thousands of buildings affected

Mike Harrison/X

Bishop Harrison’s flooded living room

Bishop Harrison’s flooded living room

THE Bishop of Dunwich, the Rt Revd Mike Harrison, was among the thousands of people forced from their homes by severe flooding in parts of England and Scotland over the weekend.

On Saturday morning, Bishop Harrison, a suffragan in the diocese of Edmundsbury & Ipswich, who lives in Mendlesham, near Stowmarket, posted a picture on social media of his flooded living-room.

He wrote: “Oh dear — home deluged with 8 inches of rain on ground floor + oak tree at front down taking power line with it. Humans fine, chickens lost, bees ok, neighbours great, hospitality in near future unlikely.”

Heavy rainfall from Storm Babet on Friday caused water levels in rivers to rise, flooding at least 1250 homes in Suffolk, Derbyshire, Shropshire, and Scotland, which was hardest hit. Dozens of church buildings were also flooded.

The Met Office and Environment Agency issued threat-to-life warnings in the worst-affected areas. Four people are reported to have died as a result of the storm.

Electricity supplies to tens of thousands of homes were cut off, roads were closed, and trains were cancelled around the country, causing King’s Cross station in London to shut on Saturday because of overcrowding.

Bishop Harrison said on Monday: “The floods came on with shocking speed, and some of the worst if not the worst flood devastation in decades. We ourselves were deluged in our home, and are deeply grateful, as are others, for the generosity and kindness of neighbours offering help and providing emergency accommodation for my family.

“It is heartening to see the solidarity and empathy at work across our Suffolk communities at this time — whether providing shelter, food, or practical assistance, the neighbourliness is so encouraging to see.”

Suffolk last experienced severe flooding when the county was hit by a tidal surge in 2013. The Environment Agency described the situation at the time as worse than the fatal floods of 1953.

The diocesan Bishop, the Rt Revd Martin Seeley, said on Monday that Storm Babet, since passed, had “wreaked havoc” in the county, “beyond what any of us could have anticipated. My heart goes out to those whose homes have been flooded and ruined, including many homes and businesses flooded in several communities around our county, and I have had reports from clergy in several places including Debenham, Framlingham, Mendlesham, Needham Market, and Lavenham.”

Because of the “unprecedented nature” of the rainfall, many homes and businesses did not have flood insurance, he said. “I know our churches are rallying round, including those that have been flooded themselves, to help out those who have been so terribly affected.

“Communities have been incredible, local business providing hot food. Our farmers have been out, helping people stuck in their vehicles; once again the people of Suffolk are reaching out and providing practical and emotional support for neighbours in need.”

Framlingham was among the worst-hit communities when the mere and the River Ore burst their banks, he said. “The whole town was cut off for several hours.” The Rector of Framlingham, the Revd Christopher Davey, reported that the local funeral parlour was among the businesses under water. The “incredible” community was rallying round with hot food, and drinks, and beds in the community hall, he said.

The Vicar of Debenham, Canon Susan Taylor, spent the weekend in the village and at the local High School, “offering support and literally a shoulder to cry on”.

Teachers had evacuated all the children from the primary school, ferrying them on their shoulders to a small fleet of tractors, which took them home, or to the High School or leisure centre, where about 30 people stayed overnight.

In Derbyshire, several churches and church halls were also flooded, among them St Alkmund’s, Duffield, which is in the flood plain of the River Derwent. As a result, a wedding had to be moved to the church in the village of Little Eaton near by. This is the second time that the church has flooded in the past four years, and the third time that the church hall has flooded.

The Vicar, the Revd James Hughes, said on Tuesday: “When we did the wedding rehearsal on Wednesday, little did we know that things would not go according to plan, though by Friday, previous experience told me that flooding in the church was a distinct possibility. So, I kept in close contact with the couple, and we decided to delay the final decision until Saturday morning.

“With three inches of water in the church on Saturday, it was a quick decision, not to mention the two feet of water in the church hall. The couple were very understanding about the situation, even though it wasn’t quite what they had in mind.”

A clean-up operation is now under way, though it may be a week or two before services can resume. It is hoped that the C of E school can host church services. Other parts of the village have also flooded, after the River Ecclesbourne burst its banks.

The Bishop of Derby, the Rt Revd Libby Lane, thanked volunteers, residents, local-authority teams, and emergency services who “facilitated such a co-ordinated and generous response to the crisis. The people of Derbyshire have an incredibly strong sense of community, and I know that many neighbourhoods, businesses, and individuals are rallying round to support those who need it most.”

Hereford diocese was also affected. The Bishop, the Rt Revd Richard Jackson, said on Tuesday that water levels were continuing to rise, “with further bad weather forecast for later this week. This may well cause greater flood damage than we’ve seen so far, and we are keeping a close eye on the weather.

“While we are not presently aware of our churches’ being flooded, the damage to the communities they serve has been awful. Once again, the people of Herefordshire and South Shropshire have stepped in to help out those who have been affected. I also hold in my prayers all our farmers who have stepped in to help, but who have also experienced damage to crops and land.”

On Friday, as red weather warnings were issued for large areas of Tayside, Angus, and Aberdeenshire, the Bishop of Brechin, the Rt Revd Andrew Swift, said that the heavy rainfall had had a “horrendous impact” on residents. “The reported loss of life is tragic, and the search for those missing is heartbreaking. My prayers are for those who have lost loved ones. Flooding, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of residents in the city of Brechin, shows the terrible impact this is having on so, so many lives. . .

“The aftermath of the flooding in Brechin and throughout the affected regions will stretch and test the resources and resolve of these communities for some considerable time to come. As churches, we will do all we can to support the work of community recovery in the weeks and months ahead.”

The Revd Jim Benton-Evans, who is Rector of St Mary and St Peter, Montrose, St David of Scotland, Inverbervie, and St Andrew’s, Brechin, reported: “I have been out and about this morning trying to assess the scale of need and what assistance we ought, and are able, to offer. We are still cut off, but some local grocery shops [are] open.”

The Bishop urged people to heed the advice of the authorities and emergency services.

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