Just one link in a chain of hope

Les Brindley, Rhona Dunn, Simon Pringle and Les Sage go through letters of support and donations.
Les Brindley, Rhona Dunn, Simon Pringle and Les Sage go through letters of support and donations.

FOUR years ago Morpeth suffered its worst flooding since records began.

The deluge affected more than 1,000 homes, with 400 people being evacuated. Fortunately, no lives were lost but the impact on residents was immense with furniture ruined, homes covered in sludge and personal belongings lost forever. Businesses had to close for several weeks and many people could not return home for months.

There were stories of heroism and good deeds on the day of the floods and for the following weeks. Morpeth was visited by Royalty and Government visitors – all of whom pledged support.

However, the disaster brought the community together as it struggled to come to terms with the impact of the floods. Morpeth quickly learned that the best way forward, at least in the short term, was to help itself.

I must stress from the outset the Lions were only one link in a chain of a range of organisations and individuals who put in massive amounts of work to help the town get back to some level of normality. These included the three councils, Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service, the Environment Agency, the Red Cross, the churches, the Rotary Club and many more.

The floods arrived on the afternoon and evening of Saturday, September 6. Early the next morning, Morpeth Lions Club, led by the then President Graham Tait, Les Sage, Les Brindley and Simon Pringle, had set up the Morpeth Flood Disaster Fund. The response from the public was instant, with far more being donated than envisaged at first.

The initial target was £10,000 but that was reached in a couple of days, with £5,000 coming from street collections alone.

In the first week, Morpeth traders had offered £3,000 and there was a pledge from the Lions Club International Fund, which responds to disasters around the world, for $10,000.

Much of the money came in by post or directly into the bank account set up for the appeal. By Monday, the Lions, with help from Morpeth residents, were on the streets of Morpeth can rattling. We were immediately joined by the ladies of the Ashington Lioness Club, who put in several hours of collecting.

The response, including many donations of £10 and £20 pound notes, was tremendous.

This took place against the background of salvage operations.

By Tuesday, a meeting had been arranged of the town’s charitable organisations together with the churches, Chamber of Trade, local businesses and the councils. This was to sort out which organisation led on various tasks and the Lions had the job of co-ordinating the appeal fund. Various organisations and individuals put together a number of fundraising initiatives.

At the same time, other Lions got involved in the clean-up and helped the Rotary Club in its furniture appeal to replace those that were lost in the floods. Furniture was collected by the Rotary Club to pass onto those in need and a vacant unit on Coopies Lane was used as a temporary store.

Smaller items such as bedding and cleaning equipment were collected at Jacob Conroy Funeral Services for distribution to those affected. The various organisations and helpers from the local community were rushing around on various tasks, but it was surprising how quickly the efforts were successfully co-ordinated.

In the Lions Club, we were assigned our roles and got on with it. Les and Gay Sage’s kitchen at their Oldgate apartment became our logistical headquarters.

The clean-up operations and furniture collections threw up their own memorable moments. Much of the furniture collections were undertaken on behalf of Rotary by Jim Dunn, Paul Christensen and Lion Les Brindley.

In all the hard work there were lighter moments. At one house they had to take a double glazed door off to move out some large items of furniture.

The door came off easily but when they came to put it back the door was slightly warped and although the top and bottom hinges fitted the middle one would not go into place.

They struggled for half an hour, complaining they should have brought a hammer, watched by the owner of the house. After half an hour, the owner suddenly volunteered a hammer and in seconds the door was fixed.

At another house, they received a present of a pack of Polish beer. Jim and Paul do not drink beer so poor Les had to take it home himself – he was delighted.

I remember going to a house in Baysland with Alan Taylor and others. The owner had already sold up and was due to move. Unfortunately, the floods meant the packing up of furniture and goods were disrupted halfway through the process.

We came to finish off the job as her previous helpers were struggling with their own flood clearance. Everything was straightforward until we started on packing her doll collection. There were several downstairs but when we moved upstairs we found whole rooms full of them.

We thought we had finished the packing until she mentioned she had a few more in the loft. We made room to get into the loft to be confronted with dozens more. Most of my afternoon was spent watching Alan’s rear as he scrambled through the loft passing me doll after doll after doll. It was a fantastic collection but I was not keen to see another doll for a long time after.

Meanwhile, we also looked outside Morpeth for our fund-raising. Other Lions Clubs throughout the country were sending us donations and I was given the task of organising the collections at various events and for two charity dinners.

Marks and Spencer allowed us to bag pack for a day each in the food halls at their Eldon Square and MetroCentre stores. We had offers for help from individuals and from local Lions Clubs, most notably the Mid Tyne Club who meet in Ryton. The Marks and Spencer staff were great and really encouraging and took those of us there all day upstairs to the staff canteen for a sandwich and a sit down.

With the help of the Sage Academy of Performing Arts, we held concerts in Eldon Square and the MetroCentre.

Once the audience got settled we moved in with the collecting cans.

In spite of being directly hit by the floods, Kevin Liu offered to stage two charity dinners at his Mulan restaurant on High Stanners. We put on entertainment, held raffles with prizes donated by local businesses and had two wonderful evenings.

Stewart and Janice and the team at the Mulan could not have been more helpful. There was strong support for tables at the events from our neighbouring Lions Clubs and, of course, from the Ashington Lionesses.

In the end, we raised some £208,000 thanks to the tremendous support from residents of Morpeth and wider afield.

These funds were distributed by Morpeth Lions Club and administrator Rhona Dunn following endorsement by the Red Cross.

The total raised would not have been possible without the commitment and goodwill of the community of Morpeth.

Furthermore, we must acknowledge the role of the local press, radio and television in this, in particular the previous editor of the Morpeth Herald, Terry Hackett, who gave magnificent support and ensured the efforts of all the charitable organisations were well publicised locally.

WE hope the floods never happen again.

It was extremely hard work for the club and some individuals for several months.

This took place while the Lions were organising their full autumn and winter schedule such as the Meet the Lions party for the elderly and the Christmas Parcels for those in need.

We are pleased to see that plans for flood defences are progressing with the planning application, thanks in no small part to the pressure of the Morpeth Flood Action Group.

We look forward to increased protection from flooding for the residents and businesses of Morpeth.