Doncaster floods: The story from Bentley - panic turns to anger as resilient community rallies in response

Panic, worry and devastation turned to anger as residents in Bentley look to try and rebuild their lives after floods devastated homes and businesses.

By George Torr, Local Democracy Reporter
Tuesday, 12th November 2019, 11:47 am
Shannon Mitchell
Shannon Mitchell

The mention of 'sandbags' is a sore subject on the doorstep. People lined up to explain how they only arrived in council vans when the flood waters had already breached the houses.

Many residents phoned up before the flood waters hit and were reportedly asked if they had 'ordered them'. Others were advised to fill bin liners with soil.

This is nothing new to Bentley. People remember the near identical events of 2007. But this time 12 years on, it returned more devastating than ever.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Debbie Hanlon with granddaughter Dolly

Politicians were grilled by angry residents in the middle of the street, upset at the response and lack of warning the floods were on there way.

But in the bleak and harsh circumstances surrounding many families – through no fault of their own – there is a crumb of comfort in this resilient community.

Firefighters from the West Midlands working round the clock pumping water from streets and streams manage a short, well-earned break to play football with children in the road as volunteers hand out hot drinks and warm food.

People have gone out of their way to help.

Emma King (red coat) partner Ryan Watson (blue coat) with neighbours and friends

"I'd be lost without these angels," one woman said as she is handed a cup of tea.

Standing on her front doorstep, 50-year-old Debbie Hanlon looks on at the soggy mess in her front yard which was once was the contents of her downstairs.

Carrying her three-year-old granddaughter Dolly, she explains the toddler's third birthday celebrations were ruined because of the flooding.

Like others, she was hit in 2007 but had insurance. However, following the deluge, it then became near impossible to get cover.

Kev Wingfield

Ms Hanlon was one of many Bentley residents critical at the response and said there was not enough notification.

"When there's really heavy rain, people do get worried," she said.

"We often have a walk down to the Don to see what it's doing because we don't get a lot of notification from the relevant bodies so we have to try and look out for ourselves.

"Somebody only has to put something on Facebook to say the river is high and everyone starts running to the Don to how bad it is and if we have to move stuff because we don't get enough notice.

Andrew Cooper and Sandra O'Neil

"The sandbags arrived too late again – this was the same story in 2007. People were ringing the council on Thursday night for them and they brought them round when water was already in the houses. They were telling us we had to order them.”

Responding to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson's comments that flooding in Doncaster 'wasn't a national emergency', Ms Hanlon said: "If this is not a national emergency, I don’t know what is. Boris Johnson can come and live in my house with no heating and no floors. He’d soon change his mind."

Just a short walk away, Shannon Mitchell, 28, is clearing the drenched contents of her downstairs onto her front yard as she chats away to next-door neighbour Angela.

Ms Mitchell, a mum of two on Hunt Lane, also hit out at the PM for his comments but praised the community for sticking together.

"I got a phone call from one of my neighbours halfway up the street, and she told me to get ready because the water was coming – I was running around in my pyjamas at 8 o'clock in the morning trying to sort things out," she said.

"I've lost carpets, toys, flooring, the sofa, pretty much all of the downstairs is destroyed.

Eric Czerwionka

"The response has been an utter shambles – nobody knows what's going on and it feels like we're being passed from pillar to post – people aren't happy with the council.

"But we've stuck together round here – if it weren't for everybody helping and others that have gotten involved to help us – we'd be stuffed. I can't thank everybody enough."

On the PM's comments, Ms Mitchell said: "It would be a national emergency if his house got flooded - it's all right for him he could go and stay at another nice big warm mansion."

But the community spirit has shone through in what are desperate circumstances.

Shane Miller sells windows and doors by day and his showroom is right in the heart of the estate which bore the brunt of the Don's wrath.

The 39-year-old came down on Friday to check if flooding had damaged his property and was relieved to find only his basement was affected.

But as the situation unfolded, his showroom has been transformed into a ad hoc community shelter and hub.

Volunteers take turns handing out cups of tea, cakes, packets of crisps and sweets for the children in thick coats and hats.

Inside it has become a place for information, a talk and a hug from a stranger.

Clothing and cleaning items such as buckets, mops and bleach are also ready to be handed out to those that need them. The donations come in so fast, an appeal is put out for other things instead.

Even the nearby McDonald’s off Bentley Road got involved supplying food and drink to residents.

Mr Miller said: "The water came rushing through the streets – it was carnage with people running around like headless chickens trying to carry sandbags, old folk trying to drag sandbags in wheelie bins, it was horrendous.

"I knew straight away I had to do something – around here there is nowhere really where you can grab shelter – there was nobody feeding back messages to people no one supporting them so we just opened the doors.

"There's been kids wading through the water bringing people food for those who were stuck - it's just really nice to see.

"I grew up in this area and I couldn't sit idly by."

A crowd of women gathered on Frank Road which sits close to the East Coast Mainline.

Labour general election candidate Ed Miliband flanked by Bentley councillor Jane Nightingale talk to residents in the street. But one woman begins to get more irate at Coun Nightingale at the overall council response.

"Now then Ed, what are you going to do to get this sorted?" one resident asks.

Mr Miliband, who is hoping to re-elected come December 12, is invited into one home to assess the damage.

"Where on earth are St Leger Homes?" one woman said. "They surely can't expect rent when our houses are like this."

"This is worse than 2007 and the response is worse today as well," another woman responds.

Emma King is one of the women in the group to approach Mr Miliband and Coun Nightingale.

"It's been a complete rollercoaster of emotions – it got to the point where I cried when someone handed me a pair of clean socks.

"I feel awful for the kids, they don't know whether they are coming or going – the council really has a lot to answer for because we feel massively let down."

Taxi driver Andrew Cooper is another out cleaning up on Hunt Lane. He said lessons have not been learned from previous flooding which hit the area 12 years ago.

"We feel let down by the council and the Environment Agency – people have had it so hard trying to clear all this mess up and we haven't really had any help," he said.

"Sandbags didn't arrive until the house was already flooded – I'm not alone in saying this but that was a bit of a kick in the teeth.

"But It's all been from the people and the wider community who have been unbelievable - they are the people who have got us through.

"Lessons should've been learned from 2007 and it hasn't happened."

Kev Wingfield, on Yarborough Terrace, is also dealing with the aftermath. The 52-year-old wants the council, government and the Environment Agency to look at flood-prone places like Bentley and come up with a proper defence plan.

"It was obvious what was going on Thursday night so my wife phoned up and asked for sandbags and they then asked if we had ordered them. I couldn't believe it," he said.

"They told us to get black bin liners and fill it with soil, bearing in mind most gardens are paved so what do they want us to do? Go and dig the field up?

"All the authorities need to get their heads together up and down the country on places like Bentley. It's not good enough."

"I've not even had time to process what's gone on. You just get by."

Sitting in his car charging his phone outside Willow Grange caravan park is 52-year-old Czerwionka.

The caravan complex sits right next to the Don and suffered some of the worst flooding in the area. Evacuations took place early on Friday.

Piles of debris and furniture are lined up outside homes which resembles the aftermath of a hurricane.

"Everyone has been caught short, this can't happen again," he said.

A spokesman for Doncaster Council said they 'would not be commenting' until the emergency status was lifted in the area.

The Environment Agency has been contacted for comment.