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Churches help snow-hit Cumbrians

07 December 2023

Vicarage opens its doors to stranded 18-strong steel band


Judith Dixon, the wife of the Vicar of Hawkshead, Canon John Dixon, hands out cake to stranded motorists

Judith Dixon, the wife of the Vicar of Hawkshead, Canon John Dixon, hands out cake to stranded motorists

THE Vicar of Hawkshead, Canon John Dixon, found himself with 25 unexpected house guests after a blizzard hit Cumbria on Saturday afternoon, depositing up to one foot of snow, and leaving hundreds of people stranded overnight.

Roads rapidly became impassable, and the police declared a major incident. Drivers on a rally through Grizedale Forest were stuck in their cars, and people who had been attending a Christmas Fayre in the village found themselves stranded. But there was little panic, Canon Dixon said. “The anxiety was generally for people who were vulnerable rather than people looking out for themselves,” he said on Tuesday.

“They were rescuing cars off the rally, and delivering them to us in the village. They were magnificent. I saw one of them the following morning, and he was absolutely exhausted.”

An afternoon concert had had to be cancelled; so the cake that had been provided was delivered to people in their cars. When it became obvious that stranded people would have to stay overnight, the vicarage became a refuge, and Canon Dixon and his wife, Judith, took in 25, including the 18 members of the Milnthorpe Steel Band.

“It’s a biggish vicarage, and we have a couple of spare rooms,” he said. “Others were sleeping on the floor with camping equipment. It was cosy, to say the least, but they were all cheerful and helped out. They made sandwiches to take down to people sleeping in the church, and helped deliver soup — there were a couple of hundred people to be accommodated.”

The church heating was put on for the 20 who slept in the church, 150 slept in Hawkshead’s small primary school, and 40 in the Brownie and Guide hut, which had the advantage of having bunks. Members of the steel band, who had become separated from their instruments earlier in the day, had been good guests, Canon Dixon said, and were the bulk of the congregation at a makeshift service on Sunday morning.

They ran out of food by the second morning, and the shop had not been able to open; but one of the staff managed to reach it and was able to donate food where it was needed. “It was a genuine community effort,” Canon Dixon said. “This is a small community, and people wanted to go out of their way to do what they could. There was a lot of generosity and kindness.”

In Ambleside, up to 150 people were given shelter in the Parish Centre and at St Mary’s, while local businesses rallied to provide hot food, drinks, and bedding.

The Team Rector of the Loughrigg Benefice, the Revd Andrew Smith, said: “So many groups came together across Ambleside to support these people. It was lovely to see. At first, we had no idea how long people would need to be cared for, but, by 8 p.m., it became clear that they would be with us overnight.

“The local bakery came forward to provide pasties and sausage rolls; there was soup made, and pizzas provided, too. We were caring for all ages, from a three-month-old baby and a child who was celebrating their tenth birthday through to a lady who had travelled up to be with family for her 60th birthday.

“It’s so important that, as a church, we were able to help out in this way, alongside everyone at the Parish Centre, with whom we work so closely on a day-to-day basis. The church is there to look after people and to be at the centre of the community at times like this. It’s a blessing to be able to care for people when they need help the most. It reflects the heart of Jesus for his people.”

The nearby Rydal Hall, the diocese of Carlisle’s Christian retreat and conference centre, provided emergency accommodation for 48, plus 38 duvets and two cots, which the Fire Service transported to the parish centre and the church. Members of the congregation also came forward with sleeping bags and bedding.

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