'Flooding was terrible - but coronavirus has been even worse for our Doncaster businesses'
A year ago, they saw their businesses devastated by some of the worst floods to hit Doncaster.
But 12 months on, they feel that the blow that hit them when their sites flooded in November 2019 was less than the devastation that they have seen caused by the coronavirus pandemic this year.
Pam Webb and Phil Henderson both saw their businesses wiped out for months after the River Don burst its banks. But over the subsequent weeks they built them back up again despite having no money from insurance to help them.
Pam’s Truffle Lodge spa business that she had built up in Fishlake was under water after the devastating floods of November 8 last year.
The floods wrecked the venue’s swimming pool and hot tub. It warped the floor in her manicure and pedicure rooms.
But when her insurance company refused to pay because of a clause in her cover, she restored the site with her own money, re-opening in January 2020.
But little more than two months after re-opening, she was ordered to close at the start of the national lockdown.
She said: “Fortunately, I’d been running this business for five years or so, so I already had a great customer base and a reputation. What has really been amazing has been the support of the people. When we have been closed, people have bought gift vouchers, supporting local business. I think Fishlake needs investment from authorities too. It’s a little village and sometimes feels like it’s in another county, almost in no man’s land, and the floods affected, at a guess 80 per cent of people.
"The floods put Fishlake on the map, but we never want to pay that price again."
But she feels the coronavirus crisis has been even worse for businesses.
"In some aspects the floods were heartbreaking,” said Pam. “It cost so much to fix the damage, and you saw everything you’d worked for floating away.
"But you could just keep working, working, working, to get it back open. It felt like I was in control. But Covid is out of anyone’s control. When you’re told to shut there’s nothing you can do. There is a very different feel in lockdown now to March though. People don’t want to cancel now like they did then, when everything was more unknown.”
Pam hit the headlines after the floods when she buttonholed Prime Minister Boris Johnson, getting a promise of support for businesses and residents affected by the disaster.
Since then she has kept in touch with organisations such as the Environment Agency (EA).
She says she can see there is now work going on to bolster the flood defences. The EA has stated that the defences are ‘winter ready’ but says it will not complete all its work until next year.
But Pam said seeing flooding in Wetherby, North Yorkshire, earlier this month, made her wonder if there are enough defences in place.
"We can see some activity in the village by the Environment Agency, which is good,” she said. “But I don’t know what to think when you see Wetherby. it makes you wonder if there is enough in place. But I’m trying to be as optimistic as I can. They are the experts.
"But with Covid and lockdown, we cannot afford to let flooding go off the agenda – we can’t pay that price again.”
Pam has only recently completed repairs to her own home, next to her spa, having concentrated on bringing back her business first.
On the other side of Doncaster, Phil Henderson also saw his caravan park and fishing lake business devastated.
Back in November, Phil’s wife Dawn feared she would be swept away by the water. She was thrown a rope to help her escape the site as the waters rose. Caravans were picked up and dropped off the site in trees and bushes. His fish stocks were lost.
The couple moved out initially, living with friends and family.
Eventually, they moved back to the site, initially in a caravan, and then finally back into their home.
But with a wave of community support, he rebuilt his Ferryboat Farm Fisheries angling lake, which is at Old Denaby.
Friends and well wishers offered their services for free to help him get the angling site and caravan park ready to open again, as well as helping him repair his own house on the site, where he lives.
The latest lockdown means he cannot have the touring caravans on his site, but he is allowed to run non competitive fishing, meaning he still has an income.
He was at one stage concerned that fishing might be stopped by lockdown.
He said: “We’re back up and running, although the club house is not open again yet.
"People can fish, but we can’t run matches.
"We can’t do anything about this. With the floods, it was hard work, but we had wonderful support. However at least it was in our power to get things sorted.
"They’re both the same in that they stopped us working. Flooding was a big thing but we worked to put things right, but then had to shut.
"This time of year would have been a quiet time for us in terms of caravans, but we still had people booked in – but people can’t travel during lockdown. We had been doing all right. Fishing was back, and the caravan site was busy.”