As Storm Desmond wreaked havoc in the North, The Salvation Army responded with its mobile emergency units, keeping the emergency services and evacuees fed and watered.
Over the course of the weekend, more than 25 volunteers supported on the emergency vehicles, coming from as far as Trafford in Manchester, Wigan and Morecambe, to help.
The teams distributed up approximately 2,000 drinks, using 600 litres of water and used around 50 loaves for sandwiches.
On Friday, the Chadderton unit supported fire and boat crews in Fordham, South Cheshire when the River Dee burst its banks and houses were evacuated over a two-mile stretch.
High winds on Saturday afternoon added to difficulties at a fire at an industrial unit in Stalybridge and the Salford response team supported crews tackling the blaze.
By Saturday night – at 11.30 pm – the Preston team had been called to a holding point on the M6 Northbound near junction 33 to support blue light services with refreshments. Some 25-30 vehicles were based at the services, which were closed due to the power outage that occurred within a ten-mile radius of Lancaster.
At 2 am on Sunday the Preston unit redeployed to the middle of Lancaster, serving mountain rescue, ambulance, police and fire services. At 7.30 am as high tide was reached, the Chadderton vehicle took over, remaining in the city centre feeding emergency services and people who had been evacuated or who had no electricity until 4 pm.
The Salford team stood the Chadderton crew down at 3.30 pm and moved to Lancaster fire station, which had been completely flooded. There, the station became a gathering point for emergency crews to grab refreshments and carry on their work. The volunteers remained until 10 pm.
Central North Divisional Emergency Response Co-ordinator Major Nigel Tansley and Major Sue Tansley (Stretford Corps), with a senior fire officer, visited homes to take flasks of boiling water and sandwiches to those who were most vulnerable. The work was completed at 9.45 pm.
In addition to the response units’ support, volunteers supported staff at the North West Fire control centre in Warrington, which handles the 999 calls for Greater Manchester, Cheshire, Lancashire and Cumbria Fire Services. With staff responding to such an extremely high volume of calls, there was little time to find refreshment so The Salvation Army helped keep staff going during exceptionally busy and tough shifts.
Captain Mark Lewis, church leader for Wigan, was able to provide support. He said: ‘It was a hive activity when I arrived and an emotional time as people worked hard to make a difference to callers. The calls were relentless and there was little time for a break, so I was able to make hot drinks for staff as they needed them.
‘People seemed very pleased to have The Salvation Army there trying to help and make a difference – I felt in some small way we were part of the relief response by just being there.
‘It was quite an education when you realise how much members of staff put into these emergency situations and so often go the extra mile to ease the burden on their fellow workers and to help the public in a crisis. Our thoughts and prayers remain with all those helping in this situation and those who have been impacted by the floods.’
Although a number of our centres are without power, church leaders and members have been responding locally to support their community and church members.
In Morecambe, Captains Jane and Mark Spencer-Arneaud and their three children have been keeping spirits up by ensuring people have hot water and food after electricity was cut off over the weekend. Captain Mark Spencer-Arneaud said: ‘Even though the problems have lessened now the impact is ongoing, with people struggling to leave the town with bridges closed and roads blocked. We’ve taken food and water to neighbours and church members – it’s all we are able to do.’
Penrith Salvation Army made available emergency blankets to be taken to communities in Carlisle and cooked for the emergency services at the Cumbria Headquarters Fire Station in Penrith from midday on Sunday until 9 pm. A team from South Shields and Northern Divisional Headquarters provided relief cover from 6 pm.
Penrith corps officer Captain Stuart McPhee said: ‘It is really important to provide help and support to our emergency services who are providing the essential support needed for our wider community. We watched the emergency services personnel go above and beyond the call of duty yesterday, providing them with some sustenance to enable them to continue their work was a small way in which we could help.’
A request for a team of volunteers in Carlisle East led to a team cooking at 5.30 pm on Sunday – the corps officer, Major Mark Sellers, was based at one of the three reception centres in Carlisle (one of three).
The corps at Carlisle has focused on supporting work already being carried out at centres, with the church leaders providing a listening ear to those impacted by the floods – some, not for the first time. While at a reception centre church leader Captain Mark Sellers was able to support a man who desperately needed a methadone script filled. Working with local medical services, the captain was able to help him source the vital medication and fill the script shortly before the pharmacy was due to close. It is the small acts that make a big difference to people facing crisis.
As the flood waters recede and people move past the state of initial crisis, The Salvation Army will be looking to provide additional support for the long term.
The corps has already said that it will look to provide furniture to people in the community and other Salvation Army charity shops are looking to be included in this support.
The church building at Abbey Street has been impacted by the loss of electricity and the church leaders have looked to salvage what perishable items they can. The church at St Nicholas Street continues to operate with its programme, including the vital food distribution from its food bank.
Corps officer (church leader) Captain Dawn Sellers said: ‘We’re now looking beyond those crisis moments for how we can continue to support in the future days – which will be a really important time for people as they go back to their businesses and properties and come to terms with what has happened.'
In Kendal, church leader Lieutenant Diane Pryor has been supporting the local reception centre.
Tonight, The Salvation Army is due to host the cold weather night shelter for people experiencing homelessness – which it operates in partnership with Manna House charity and a team of churches – and which will be able to provide a safe space to sleep for anyone impacted by the floods also (from 6 pm).
Lieutenant Pryor said: ‘Right now we are responding to needs as and when they are presented.’