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How people are coping after the Cumbria floods – one month on

event report

We report on how people are coping after the floods in Glenridding, Cumbria, and the work that Friends of the Earth is doing on flooding.

It’s been just over a month since the UK was struck by Storm Desmond, swiftly followed by Storms Eva and Frank. Biblical quantities of rain brought extreme flooding and misery to many communities across the North of England, Wales, and Scotland.

Glenridding back on its feet

Glenridding back on its feet

In December I went to visit people who had been affected by the floods in Lancashire and Cumbria. Glenridding in Cumbria was hit especially badly – it was flooded 3 times in 1 month.




I returned to Glenridding a month on from the floods, to hear how the community is recovering and what support they needed.

The first place I returned to is Patterdale School. Mrs Stewart, the headteacher, is keen to let us know how the children are coping.

Mrs Stewart, Headteacher Patterdale School

Mrs Stewart, Headteacher Patterdale School

“There has been an emotional impact on the children, and particularly the ones whose parents have been involved with the clear-up of the floods”, she tells me.

The children are picking up that their parents are tired and that their attention is elsewhere as they deal with the aftermath in the village

But Mrs Stewart is keen to share positive news as well.

“There have also been some really amazing offers to the school from other parts of the country. A school on the Somerset Levels, where there were floods the other year, held a cake sale and raised £220 for us to replace the play equipment that had been ruined by the floodwaters.”

She then takes me outside to show me where the back near the school came up to.

“We need to face the fact that this issue of flooding is not going away. In fact, flood events are getting more frequent, and we see that with this little beck here near the school. It really does need a long-term view to deal with it.”

I also pay a visit to Ruth, who so kindly let me stay in her home last time. Watch her tell me about the ongoing impacts of the floods:

On my way back into the village I call to see Jonathan from Patterdale Hall Estate, where he is working in the woods with a team of volunteers.

Grisedale Beck flows through the estate and had altered its course during the floods.

Jonathan clearing the damage to the Patterdale Estate

Jonathan clearing the damage to the Patterdale Estate

“This has been my hardest month of work ever,” Jonathan recounts. “We’ve had to rebuild the caravan site, including digging out all the silt that was deposited on it.

“We’ve needed to shore up the bank of the beck, as due to a landslip it’s close to undercutting a road, and we’re trying to get things sorted for if there is another flood. But we have had lots of offers of help and people have been coming up to help from as far afield as Nottingham.”

“The main thing people need to know is that the whole village is open, the Lake District is still a beautiful place to come and visit. And we need people’s support in building it bigger and better this time.”

That’s just what Paul, another resident of Glenridding, also tells me – the village depends on tourism, and the floods have hit tourism hard:

Alan Brown runs Glenridding mini-market. His shop was flooded twice in December, and it’s heart-breaking to see that there has been so little progress in repairing the interior.

The same stock sits on the shelves as there was in December. He can’t sell it, can’t give it away and doesn’t want to bin it as he’s from a generation that does not throw away good food.

Alan's son, Craig, outside his father's store

Alan’s son, Craig, outside his father’s store

“I’m still not trading and I’ve lost the trade from the past 6 weeks”, says Alan.

“The people dealing with my claim said I might be up and running by Easter, but Easter is early this year and I can’t see it happening. I’ve lost 60 per cent of my stock and lots of my money is in that stock.”

I ask him what support he has had from the government and his local MP, the Floods Minister, Rory Stewart.

“I’m one of his constituents, but I’ve not seen him in the village. My son says he saw him, but he didn’t come to see my shop, which I’m disappointed in.

“But hopefully he is doing as much as he can and I hope he is putting the case for flooded folks everywhere. We aren’t the only ones.”

And Alan isn’t the only one whose business is still not open.

The Glenridding Hotel was flooded 3 times during December. Selina Ali, one of the hotel’s managers, is outside with the equipment that is being stripped out of the kitchens.

 Selina Ali, manager of the Glenridding hotel Selina Ali outside the Glenridding Hotel

Selina Ali, manager of the Glenridding hotel
Selina Ali outside the Glenridding Hotel

“The third flood was nothing in comparison to the other 2, but it halted the whole process of drying and clearing out of the bottom floor”, says Selina.

“It’s a huge job down there. We have to reconstruct the entire lower floor. The damage was too vast and everything is written off. It’s very stressful to see it. I don’t think I’ll go down and look again, it’s too emotional.”

She says that they, like the school, have been really supported by people outside of the village.

“Since the floods we’ve been contacted by people in Holland who stayed here in the hotel in the 1980s.

“But the most amazing letters we have got have been from 2 evacuees who were sent here during World War II. They said they wanted to be in touch as Glenridding was a paradise for them then and they have never forgotten it.

“This support has been priceless and it keeps you going, it gives you energy and makes you have faith in the human spirit.”

Selina was also really clear on what support she wanted in the future.

I think the floods will happen again. Year on year winters are getting milder and we are getting more extreme weather 

“We need the continuing support of the Environment Agency and when we ask them a question we need to get a straight answer from them.

“We need to talk about what everyone needs and discuss what we can do to limit the damage next time. I think planting more trees is needed, this is what we should be doing.”

The hotel is hoping to re-open in July, with a big party.

The last person I go and visit is Christian, the skipper on the Ullswater Steamers. Down by the lake, it’s so still and peaceful that it’s difficult to believe the area had been through so much turmoil only a few weeks ago.

Christian Grammer

Christian Grammer

“We aren’t the same people we were when you last met us in the floods, and we aren’t the same people we were before the floods,” muses Christian.

“It’s making us think differently about how we live within our environment. We can’t be complacent about it now. We have to understand that protecting the environment and protecting the landscape are not the same thing.

“We’ve got to decide how we balance the heritage landscape of the Lakes with the need for communities to be protected from these events.”

Last time the UK was badly flooded in 2013-14, the Government said they would seriously review the country’s flood defences and take action. But as the flood waters seeped away, this promise dried up too.

Friends of the Earth’s flooding campaign

Friends of the Earth is determined this doesn’t happen again – so we’ve been busy briefing MPs, challenging the Government about out-of-date flood guidance, and meeting with floods minister Rory Stewart to press him to do more for communities affected by flooding.

We’re also pushing the government to act on climate change – to do far more to cut the pollution from burning fossil fuels that’s driving up flood risk.

I leave Christian on the shores of Ullswater and head off over the Kirkstone Pass out of the valley.

I stop and look back at the beautiful vista behind me. If there is any place willing and ready to face this challenge, it’s this one. I hope we can all support them.

Please sign our joint petition with Greenpeace, calling on David Cameron to act on flooding.

Tell David Cameron to tackle flooding

Post written by Anna Watson, 22nd January 2016

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