Spent the day at a foodbank for flood victims, where into a realm of amazing generosity from individuals and big-name companies alike came a couple of dozen people eking along, among whom was one new claimant (new – weeks after the disaster) who’d been keeping guard on his evacuated street from looters and dickhead vandals in dinghies, and only now seeks help to get a working cooker and fridge.
All the other volunteers were lovely and one in particular stood out for the time she continues to give.
It was only six hours, filling in a couple of forms, giving out bags of tea, biscuits, washing up liquid, but there is a lot of such good people out there, stoic and generous to the last in the face of the worst.
A few days later, a group of us went to assess the situation in a couple of the worst-hit villages in the Northwest. Our particular pair checked out a whole street of 30 houses that runs along a river that flows towards a centuries’ old bridge, damaged in the flood and still closed to traffic, and all houses on the road were afflicted, with only about a third of them being occupied some two months on. We saw the damage inside many, mostly with floors completely removed and water marks up to four feet downstairs, and heard the stories from the few remaining occupants.
Luck, or lack of, boils down to direction. It wasn’t just that the river burst its banks, it’s that at the upstream end of the lane is where there’s stables, a pig farm, chicken farm, from where all the muck and shit was washed downstream, down the lane, into the houses. Houses already hit in 2006 and 2009 and with flood defences installed but which were overwhelmed. Four-foot tsunami of shit floating into your house. Many of the houses are newbuilds, too, with one-time lovely floorboards and plasterboard walls, all destroyed. Furniture, electric goods, photos, toys, trinkets and memories, all ruined or washed away, the garden lawn becoming a black lake with drowned sheep snagged on the climbing frame.
Then it’s the finickities of it all. Rebuilding work can’t start until the places are dry, which in winter is a swizz to achieve and needs dehumidifiers and heaters on full tilt – assuming they’ve got safe electricity outlets – but which racks up massive bills. Bills on of huge phone bills from having to use mobile phones to contact insurers, then the insurers deploy not very competent contractors who the householder suspects aren’t doing a good job and has to keep a keen eye on them, commuting over every day from his temporary res 20 miles away (maybe only 2 miles as the crow flies but all the bridges are down, so for driving it’s 20 miles), holed up in a place that doesn’t have proper heating but the landlord still charges three times the normal rate because they know people have no choice. These affected people have children, or are in their 80s, or are staying with relatives with whom they don’t normally get on after short times when things are good, let alone during such duress.
And it goes on for months and months.
You neighbours aren’t there.
The community’s gone.
Or has it? Because all we spoke to also remarked on the help they’d had, the support that had come in from friends, family, neighbours in the town, from other towns, organisations across the country – often it’s this or that Muslim group from Leicester or London that’s mentioned in having come up and done work or given food.
Still the misery is manifest.