A lifeline for the town that nearly drowned

27th November 2009 at 00:00
In Cumbria last week, 12 inches of rain fell and around 30 schools were closed in just 24 hours. But teachers across the region worked tirelessly to salvage normality

All Saint's Primary in Cockermouth was a key location in the rescue operation, as the kitchens were turned over to producing hundreds of hot meals for the emergency services. The effort began on Friday and continued until Monday.

The cook's story

- Helen Grisedale, a cook at All Saint's Primary. Her husband, Paul, is in the fire service.

The school was closed on Friday, but I got a phone call on Friday morning saying to meet my boss there at 3.30pm.

I came in and we cooked tea for the rescue workers - the ambulance, police, RAF, fire service, the Red Cross. Some of the food had been donated by supermarkets.

The rescue workers were all based at the fire station so we went up Station Street in a little van to serve it. I finished at 8.30pm and when I'd finished they said could I come in tomorrow to do breakfasts? I said "fine, what time?" - the answer was 4.30am!

I only live two minutes up the road so I got up at 20 past 4.

My boss just stood in the kitchen and did these great big orders to Pioneer, a catering supplier in Carlisle. They got here in one and a half hours. She did that every day.

There were about four of us in, we cooked bacon, scrambled egg, sausage and beans, got it all ready for 6.30am, then brought back all the washing up and started again.

We did 170 lunches: soup and sandwiches. Then the same number for dinner: casserole, mashed potatoes, sponge and custard - we made sure they were well fed. I finished at 9.30pm.

My children are old enough to look after themselves and we were not affected. But my brother lives in a flat on Main Street and was flooded. He went to stay with friends and I had to get out a load of clothes for him and his girlfriend. They just had what they stood in.

I was pleased to help, but I'm pleased to be back to normal - the amount of food we got through was phenomenal.

The primary head's story

- Nicola Smallwood, headteacher of All Saint's Primary

On Thursday (Nov 19), we were all at school. The children went home at the normal time. Later that evening the floods were so bad that we made the decision not to open on Friday because the police didn't want people travelling: they thought they'd be safer at home. We put that out on the radio.

On Friday I got a phone call at home saying could we use the kitchens? I couldn't get to school - where I live there was no way to get in - but my secretary lives locally and was at school. They had gone in to ask her and she rang me. We sorted out a key, so they could get in early on Saturday.

On Sunday, we made the decision to re-open the next day. What I felt was that the children were uncertain about what was happening, so to be at school with their friends and the routine they were used to would help bring back normality. A lot of children said they were pleased to be back.

The school kitchen was still being used so we asked children to bring in packed lunches to eat in the school hall on Monday. The children had time to speak about what had happened with their teachers and Year 6 is planning some fundraising for the people affected.

It has been absolutely dreadful for the town, people have lost their homes, lost their businesses. Main Street has been devastated. But there is tremendous community spirit and people helping out.

Cockermouth Secondary School was used as an emergency evacuation shelter during the floods - providing beds and food for dozens of families whose homes were inundated. The closure was expected to continue until Thursday, mainly due to the transport difficulties in the region. More than 100 schools from around England have contacted the school to offer help in whatever way they can.

The secondary head's story

- Stuart Reeves, headteacher of Cockermouth School

We closed on Thursday morning (Nov 19). We got reports of the weather getting worse and some of our bus drivers said they had not seen weather this bad, ever. The water was rising very quickly and so at 10am, the school closed and everyone was home by 1pm. By 3pm the town was flooded. It was unbelievable, that in such a short space of time the water was eight foot high on Main Street.

The school was an emergency evacuation centre. About 200 people came through and thankfully all have been rehoused. At one point we were on standby to put up the troops and emergency services.

We had a team working in shifts to run the centre. My school business manager and HR manager did the first night.

We have a VLE (virtual learning environment) to set work for pupils. We have a skeleton staff of 20 coming in to set work and we have set up a school Facebook site to attract pupils and redirect them to the school website.

It is Year 11 mocks week, but we will run that again next week. We had planned a school trip to watch a Manchester United match on Wednesday (Nov 25), but we are going to try and find a way to make that happen, possibly transferring tickets to another game.

By Tuesday the issue was that so much damage has been done, particularly to the bridges, that access to the school is really difficult.

We will probably do a phased return with Year 11 to 13 students first. I got one message that a child lost all of their GCSE coursework - it was literally washed away. Pupils and teachers have been displaced. We have to be mindful when pupils come back that they may have been through a traumatic time.

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