Victims of Lancashire’s Boxing Day floods tell of their year of struggle

Happy: Billy Howards house was flooded last year but hes delighted to be back home
Happy: Billy Howards house was flooded last year but hes delighted to be back home
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The land was already saturated from Storm Desmond, but then another storm began to batter the county – Eva. By nightfall on Boxing Day, thousands of people had been forced to flee their homes, leaving behind all their possessions and treasured items. MEGAN TITLEY and MARK WHITE examine how the worst flooding in living memory affected those caught up in it.

In Croston, near Chorley, it began when River Yarrow overflowed, rendering 344 properties in the village flooded.

Flooding at The Wheatsheaf in Town Road, Croston

Flooding at The Wheatsheaf in Town Road, Croston

Then the nearby River Douglas burst its banks and flood protection dykes failed.

Leaseholder of the The Wheatsheaf in Town Road Jon Lilley said: “By 10am it had started flooding and by 2pm we were well and truly flooded and had to close.”

A Royal Air Force Chinook was brought in to help lift sandbags, the Bowland Pennine Mountain Rescue Team was called to rescue people who were stranded and emergency services scrambled to be of assistance. Environmental Agency crews also brought in a high water pump to combat the severe rainfall.

This year the general feeling among the villagers is to accept the past and face the future positively.

The Lancashire village of Croston was one of the worst affected in the area by the Boxing Day floods. An ever-optimistic resident with his mop and bucket.

The Lancashire village of Croston was one of the worst affected in the area by the Boxing Day floods. An ever-optimistic resident with his mop and bucket.

Most of them started moving back into their homes in the autumn and enjoyed a merry Christmas in their new homes.

“Generally I would say we are 95 per cent back to normal, just one or two houses have still got work being done on them,” said Anne Peet, chairman of Croston Parish Council.

“The village is just really focusing on enjoying the festive period.”

“There are about two homes still outstanding but the majority of people have just decided to put it all behind them and make sure they have a really good Christmas this year.

RECOVERY: Emergency services work hard at St Michaels on Wyre

RECOVERY: Emergency services work hard at St Michaels on Wyre

“We had a very good Christmas market earlier in the month, I think people did it with a bit more gusto.”

Those of whom had to leave their homes while work was being done to fix the damage from the flooding started to move back into their homes in Croston in the autumn.

Others, like Anne, stayed in their houses as the repairs were underway and took the opportunity to do other work that had also been needing 
doing.

She said that although Christmas last year was grim, on a positive side the nightmare situation had brought out a real sense of community spirit among villagers. “The community really pulled together at the time and I think its quite noticeable that the community spirit has stayed on.

Home sweet home: John and Pam Nickols, with dog Bartle, who were flooded out of their home last year

Home sweet home: John and Pam Nickols, with dog Bartle, who were flooded out of their home last year

“Events round the village are always well supported and people have perhaps got to know their neighbours better than before,” she said.

“It was a bad time, nobody’s going to say it wasn’t, but the majority of people have taken the attitude that we have got over it now.”

Billy and Barbara Howard’s home in Riverside Crescent was one of those affected by the floods.

After moving out to a bungalow in Euxton while work was being done they moved back into their house in September.

The floods were one of many worries that the couple have had to deal with this year.

“It’s been very stressful,” said Barbara. “I had been going through chemotherapy when we were flooded. Then Billy had to have his lymph nodes removed.

“At the end of January I had a stroke and then in March doctors found cancer spots on Billy’s lungs.

“He had to have immunotherapy to fight the cancer cells. Just as he was recovering he got food poisoning and had to go into intensive care for a week. It turned out he had total kidney failure.

“Since then he’s been much better and we just come into hospital for his check-ups. Hopefully it’s going to be normal soon.”

With repairs on their house finally complete and their health settling down Billy and Barbara spent Christmas with their family at their home.

They were able to enjoy a new addition to the family with a baby grandson. Kath Almond, parish councillor and chairman of Lower Yarrow Flood Action Group, says that although people had been crossing their fingers for a good Christmas, it is an emotional time for many.

“People were dreading Boxing Day,” she said. “It’s strange how it affects you that way. We just lost Christmas last year, we were all decorated and then it just went.

“It’s hitting people emotionally more than I thought it would.”

She also spoke of the strong community spirit which revealed itself when homes flooded.

“One good thing about it was that there were a lot of people on hand to help. This year for people who have everything back to normal it’s been good.

“They were able to relax – especially for those who have just moved back in and others who have children.”

In mid December Croston residents breathed a sigh of relief as the Environment Agency confirmed that a dam on the River Yarrow had been completed.

The structure, which is upstream from Croston, will protect the village from flooding with the sluice gates holding back flood water in order to restrict levels down stream.

A newsletter from the Agency stated: “Completion of the dam structure and installation of control equipment means that the scheme is now operational.

“We are in position to reduce the river level through Croston village should there be a risk of flooding.

“Our models have shown that should the same incident occur again with the same conditions that the River Yarrow would stay in channel through the villages of Eccleston and Croston.

“Unfortunately as we have seen in other parts of the country no flood risk management scheme will ever completely eliminate the risk of flooding to a community. With this in mind, it will always be prudent to remember the area is still at risk of flooding, albeit lower than before.”

Jon said: “Its taken me all year to get myself back on track but looking forward to a drier 2017.”

‘It’s good to be back from exile...’

Many of the people of St Michaels on Wyre had already suffered flood damage in early December, but on Boxing Day the flood waters returned with a vengeance.

Pam and John Nickols spent last Christmas in rented accommodation, meaning no family or friends could visit.

This year they’re back in their fully refurbished home and say “it’s nice to be back from exile”.

Pam said: “We’ve been sat at home thinking how nice it is to be dry again. It’s always nice to be in your space, looking at your garden, sat in your own living room.

“We had a party to celebrate getting back into our home after being away from it for nine months. That went really well and there was lots of people who had either been flooded or had helped us out.

“The weather hasn’t been great really and its trying to be festive but hopefully we’ll be dry going into 2017.”

Sam Collinson saw his home under water and endured a torrid time trying to get him and his wife Antonia back on their feet.

But now the 36-year-old from Blackpool Road, one of the worst affected areas, is hoping the village can move on from the disaster.

He said: “Our home was left under water by the floods and because we had no insurance we just had to try and save our possessions. We just had to live with the damage for quite a while but over the year we’ve slowly worked our way through the house and its beginning to look a bit more normal.

“I think most people in the village are just looking to move on with their lives and hope that the work that has been done is enough to stop it happening again. This Christmas has been very different to last, but obviously in a good way – we’re just hoping that continues.”

The relief effort came from many angles with Wyre Council and the Environment Agency helping people defend as well as refurbish their homes after the disaster.

In the past year. The Environment Agency has spent £121m in Lancashire alone to repair the damage and to better protect the 33,000 affected homes from further flooding.

Prince Harry even visited the village in February to see how the relief effort was progressing and was greeted with a community spirit which locals say has helped them get past the disasters.

Lawrence Turner, chairman of the flooded St Michael’s on Wyre Village Hall, said: “The hall is now looking better than ever and I know many homes throughout the village are getting that way too. It’s been a tough year for lots of us in St Michael’s and I know lots of us are hoping for looking forward to what we hope will be a much drier festive period. Lots of people will be enjoying Christmas but they’ll also be crossing their fingers there’s no repeat of last year.”

And to make sure nothing on that scale happens again, Wyre Council wants everyone in the borough to check their flood risk and to take some simple steps to protect themselves should the worst happen.

Coun Roger Berry, cabinet member with responsibility for flooding at Wyre Council, said: “One in six properties is at risk of flooding and a quick online post code checker can tell you your risk level.

“There are simple steps you can take now that could make all the difference in a flood, such as signing up to receive flood warnings from the Environment Agency, putting together a flood kit and collating emergency contact numbers and essential documents.

“If you live in a flood risk area, flood protection equipment must now be considered as an essential and valued asset for your property. Please don’t wait until flooding is imminent as you simply won’t have time to buy or put the measures in place.”

County Councillor Marcus Johnstone, cabinet member for environment, planning and cultural services, added: “The December 2015 floods were the worst not just in living memory, but in the history of Lancashire. They affected more than 200 communities and as well as causing distress and disruption to homeowners and businesses, they also damaged critical infrastructure such as roads, bridges and electricity supply.

“The agencies responsible for managing the risk of flooding have been working very hard together to understand how each individual flooding incident happened and to take action to manage or reduce the risk of it happening again. This has been a huge task and the agencies involved have had to make decisions around where to prioritise resources, so there is more detail relating to some communities than others.

And the damage even forced the village to create St Michael’s Flood Action Group (FLAG) which manages and inspects the work going on to improve flood defences as well as providing support for those affected.

To find out more, to join the group or to go to the next meeting you can email stmichaelsflag@gmail.com.