Teamwork in Cockermouth - the locals who are defenders against the floods
PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 February 2017
Community spirit runs deep in this Lakeland town which has been hit by floods repeatedly in recent years. Paul Mackenzie reports
There are few positives associated with the sort of flooding that parts of Lancashire have become sadly accustomed to in recent years. The damage done to homes and businesses can take months or even longer to repair, the impact on insurance can be a long-term headache and many of the treasured possessions lost to the murky waters can never be replaced.
But further north in Cockermouth there is a silver lining to the dark cloud that the threat of further flooding casts over the town.
Hundreds of people had their homes ruined when water from the Cocker and Derwent rivers swept through the town in 2009 and again in 2015. The RNLI and RAF helped rescue people from flooded homes and many spent weeks living in temporary accommodation.
Flood defences were upgraded after the devastation in 2009 but Storm Desmond was enough to overwhelm the barriers six years later and the locals there know more flooding is likely. And they are doing everything they can to be ready when it comes.
Volunteers have launched an Emergency Response Group which aims to help elderly and vulnerable people to prepare for floods and to lessen the damage caused when they happen.
Retired fire service manager, Brian Mitchell Hill is chair of the group. He said: ‘The group came about after the floods of 2015. A few of us were sitting together and talking about what we could have done better. We thought we could have done more prior to the event. We want to make a difference to people. We saw the devastation at first hand and wanted to alleviate that devastation.’
Brian, who worked for the fire service for 26 years and is now vice president of Cockermouth Rotary, organised a launch event last October where more than 50 people signed up to volunteer for the group.
‘I was overwhelmed and quite humbled by the fact that so many people were willing to offer to help their community and their neighbours,’ Brian said.
‘Having this group means we will be able to get people into affected areas and to help vulnerable or elderly people to move their possessions out of their house, or to safer places upstairs. A lot of people didn’t get that opportunity but if we can get to people and help like that, it will stop them losing prized possessions.
‘We will not only be available for flooding, but for power outages, pandemics or other occasions when people feel isolated and alone.’
The group, which is similar to one already operating in Keswick, is working with Cumbria Voluntary Services to offer training to volunteers and Brian added: ‘In the event of flooding, we’ll not put anyone near the water, if the flood defences are breached, we will pull back and let the emergency services take over.’
During Cockermouth’s previous floods, voluntary groups around the town came together to offer shelter, food and drink to those affected. Churches Together in Cockermouth was one of those groups and CTC convenor Paul Mogford is now the Emergency Response Group’s secretary.
He said: ‘In 2015 everyone sprang into action as the flood hit but now want to be able to bring that forward 24 hours. We want to go to each house in the at risk areas and make sure they have packed a bag and are ready to leave if necessary, and to offer our help moving furniture or possessions upstairs or take it into storage.
‘In the past one man was in his house for four days without anyone knowing he was there but being prepared like this will mean we can make sure people are safe and that emergency services are aware who is in which house. We want to help start the recovery before the flood happens.
‘We can’t take the flood away – if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen – but we can help people affected, they feel less lonely and they know that we are there to hold their hand as they go through the process.’
Need to know
Where it is: Cockermouth stands on the A66 about 25 miles west of junction 40 on the M6. Typing CA13 9LQ into your satnav should take you to the town centre.
In a nutshell: Forget the floods - this town has gorgeous Georgian architecture, beautiful scenery, a thriving community and a packed programme of events.
Don’t miss: Wordsworth House and Garden is a Georgian townhouse in the town centre, and was the birthplace of William and his sister Dorothy. Now owned by the National Trust, it is open from Saturday to Thursday from March 11.
Famous names: As well as Wordsworth, Fletcher Christian who seized control of HMS Bounty and Astronomer Royal Fearon Fallows were born in the town, while physicist John Dalton was born just down the road.
Where to shop: There are independent shops and bigger name chain stores. Most of the shops are along bustling Main Street and Station Street and their off-shoots, with more tucked away in the slightly more tranquil Market Place.
What’s nearby: Glorious countryside and wonderful walks. Head for Bassenthwaite – the only actual lake in the Lake District – and (between about April and September) keep an eye out for the resident ospreys.
Did you know: Cockermouth Castle is owned by Max Wyndham, 2nd Baron Egremont, a novelist and the official biographer of Siegfried Sassoon, who has also been chairman of the Friends of the National Libraries since 1985.
Find out more: Cockermouth Tourist Information Centre is on Main Street, 01900 822634.