One month on… Flood recovery in Lower Baildon (pt. 1)

Over the last week, I’ve spent quite a bit of time interviewing people affected in various ways by last month’s Boxing Day floods. These have ranged across the spectrum from flooded homeowners to senior Environment Agency staff… Take the following clip, for example, pirated from BBC North’s Inside Out programme on the floods…

Both Philip Moncaster and Jonathan Moxon, featured in this clip, are among the people I’ve been talking to — and what is most immediately clear is just how stressful this period has been for people on both ends of this situation. Phil’s frustration at the Environment Agency, articulated in the BBC clip, is completely understandable given what had happened to his home — and given the difficulties he had had contacting them in December, even before the floods hit. The EA are, after all, the people charged with a primary responsibility to the public in situations like this. But equally, Jonathan is quite sincere when he says in the clip that he is disappointed to hear of Philip’s case. The EA, which suffered significant cuts to its staff base post-2010 thanks to the government’s austerity drives, was stretched well beyond capacity by the extent of the flooding across Northern England … and this includes the situation in Cumbria dating back to November, where Jonathan was redeployed for a while himself. Staff were working literally around the clock in the days and weeks following the Christmas deluge, and this has had a significant impact on their own wellbeing and their contact with their families. (As one EA flood manager noted to me, she hasn’t really been “present” for her children since Boxing Day.) Things are only just starting to calm down sufficiently that staff can spare the time to talk to a researcher like me… and every time the weather forecast has predicted further rain over the last month, fingers have been nervously crossed that we won’t see a quick repeat of the devastation…

Philip no doubt shares that anxiety. He lives in one of the four houses of Aire Close, right next to the River Aire off Coach Road (Lower Baildon), and he had to wade out of his home on Boxing Day as the waters rose. In this Youtube video (which is the most comprehensive compilation of flood footage in the Shipley/Saltaire/Baildon area I’ve seen), Aire Close is featured between minutes 9 and 12 — in which there’s dramatic footage of a rescue boat attempting to get close enough to these houses to help Philip’s neighbours, but being swept off course by the sheer force of the current…

Philip himself features in this next YouTube clip, documenting “The Aftermath” of the flooding. The first minute or so of footage here vividly documents the devastation in his home immediately after the water subsided (the piece then goes on to document some of the community-led flood relief efforts that had quickly sprung up in the area):

Speaking with Philip now, a month on, he is back in his home but having to live upstairs while the repair work continues downstairs. His insurance company sent round some people to clean up, and they have — he says — done a tremendous job drying out the walls with specialist airing equipment. Yet salt has also been rubbed into fresh wounds by the seemingly casual way that his family’s flood-damaged belongings were thrown away into a skip… While recognising that anything touched by the floodwater was contaminated with all kinds of unpleasantness, Phil feels that more care could have been taken to salvage certain precious items for decontamination rather than them simply being trashed … Among the items gone forever are a pair of prescription glasses, passports, even a diamond ring!

Baildon Recreation Centre lies immediately to the east of Aire Close, along the riverbank, and you can still clearly see the height the floodwater came to, from the discolouration of the still-wet brickwork…

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Just to the left (east) of the Rec is the Woodbottom cricket pitch — where the force of the floodwater tore down this perimeter fence and wall….

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And there, on the far side of the pitch, sitting right next to the river, is Baildon Woodbottom Working Men’s Club, where Phil is club secretary. The photo below, kindly supplied to me by Celia (from the bar staff) shows the interior of the club’s bar on December 28th, immediately after the flood. Clearly, everything you see here has had to be thrown out because it’s been contaminated by dirty water.

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In the club itself, there are two main rooms – on either side of the bar. Below you can see the games room, where all the built-in seating along the walls has had to be ripped out… Needless to say this room remains closed to members at present.

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And here is the slab of bare floor where the ruined pool tables sat…

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Remarkably, though, the club has got its other main space — the concert room — back up and running. It’s been open to members for a week or so now, with the well-attended bingo nights resuming… Philip tells me that the club’s organisers knew it was urgent that they reopened as quickly as possible, despite the flood damage. Following the last major flooding in October 2000, the club remained closed for a lot longer, and as a result lost about a third of their regulars, who simply got in the habit of going elsewhere. And so, while also dealing with the wreckage of his own home, Phil has worked alongside his friends to get the place open again. There’s new carpet, lots of brand new chairs, and temporary tables retrieved from the loft (they’re normally kept for outdoor events). There’s also a temporary bar, improvised out of available materials in a new spot beside the door. The beer is on tap again, so a kind of normality has been resumed — even though everyone knows that the club is now facing significant challenges to its survival. Flood insurance will be a near impossibility in future, so Phil is talking about replacing the old plywood bar carcass with a potentially more resilient structure made of stainless steel.

Upstream, I noticed, the Boathouse Inn at Saltaire — also flooded out on Boxing Day — remains closed until further notice…

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