Unite Community activists have teamed up with other trade unionists in Doncaster to help flood victims – raising nearly £10,000 – after the government’s indifference response.
Secretary of Unite Community Doncaster branch, Ann-Louise Bayley (pictured below), led a team made up of representatives from the Fire Brigades Union and the Doncaster Trades Council, which organised a benefit concert and as well as other fund raising activities.
So far they have raised more than £8,500 to help hundreds of people whose homes were wrecked in the flash floods that hit South Yorkshire in early November.
Around 500 homes were flooded in South Yorkshire – with many uninsured because of previous flooding – and 1,200 buildings evacuated.
Bayley got involved after seeing the devastation brought to her local area.
She explained, “My house is on a hill so we were safe but suffered roof damage due to the sheer weight of the rain. From my window I could see the water on the fields rising quickly and the railway line was completely submerged. Facebook posts quickly started to show the utter carnage in the rest of Doncaster.
“Parts of my village flooded and the next village, Bentley, was devastated. It soon became apparent the situation was far worse than I initially thought. Many people had no power or heating and homes were ruined. To top it off Boris Johnson said it was not an emergency. Maybe not to him but to us and others it definitely was.”
The antipathy towards Johnson’s lacklustre response by flood hit members of the public was made clear when he paid a visit to the town of Stainforth, South Yorkshire, in mid-November to survey the damage.
Time and again Johnson was confronted with residents angry that he had only turned up five days after the floods and had refused to declare the situation a national emergency.
One resident shouted, “You took your time Boris.”
Another told him, “You’ve not helped us… I don’t care what you’re here today for.”
When UniteLive visited the area in December, people were still struggling with the aftermath of the floods.
At a mobile home site in the village of Bentley, residents’ caravans have been gutted and their possessions lost.
One woman, who did not wish to be identified said, “Everything went. My cooker, fridge freezer, sofa, carpets, clothes, shoes, curtains and my personal possessions, including my photos and documents. It was all so sudden, we just had to leave it all.
“I’ve not moved back in properly yet, but I’ve got a mattress that I sleep on, because the problem I’ve having is that I’m going to work, coming back, cleaning, decorating and then going to stay at a friend’s. So instead of breaking off at odd times I just sleep on a mattress in the bedroom.”
For 10 days after the floods a number of the caravan site’s residents slept on a converted double decker bus brought by a local homeless charity, the woman said.
She added, “The nearby McDonalds let us use the toilets and the gym round the corner let us use the showers and people donated food. The help from the community and the fund raising that’s been done does pick you up.
“It’s nice to know that people are thinking about us and doing what they can. Especially because up until about three days after the floods the caravan site was just left: nobody from the authorities came. It was like we’d been forgotten.”
Another site resident, Louise Rayner (pictured below), escaped major damage to her caravan and possessions but said her husband had lost all his work tools.
“My husband’s having to buy all new tools because he needs them to work. We had to strip all the carpets out, strip everything, it’s been devastating. But we’re getting there and everybody’s helping each other.”
Doncaster Unite branch secretary Bayley said it was this community spirit that is keeping the area going, rather than help from the government.
“People who had almost nothing have even less after the floods. The government has done nothing. Boris Johnson made a visit but he was not made welcome,” Bayley said.
“But help has poured in from surrounding communities. Everyone has been pulling together. That’s what we do up here. We are just working-class people who are helping our own.”
Unite national officer for food, drink and agriculture, Bev Clarkson, who lives near Halifax in West Yorkshire, also witnessed the deluge in her area.
“We had a month’s rain in one day. I looked outside and the road was like a river. Because of austerity, local councils cannot afford to clear the drainage systems that should take excess water away from people’s homes.
“We know that flooding will become worse and more frequent as the climate emergency increases in severity.
“The new government must take action now by giving local authorities the funding they need to properly service drainage systems and by investing in the infrastructure needed to redirect, collect or dissipate flood waters so they do not create widespread chaos and destruction.
“Unite is going to use its campaigning might to put pressure on the government to take every step possible to get ready for future inevitable floods – and the cost to families and communities. We can’t stop the rain – but we can be ready to help those affected.”
The £8,500 raised by Unite Community and the other trade unions will be divided between local councillors who can best direct financial assistance to flood victims in their constituencies.
If you would like to make a donation to help the flood victims in South Yorkshire please email Ren Bayley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Photo credit in text: Mark Harvey, main image: Getty Images