Blitz spirit fires Addingham woman up to help victims of flood damage

Ilkley Gazette: Sheila McLachlan with her drivers from Addingham, who will be taking a van full of   practical essentials to help    the victims of flooding which devastated parts of the south of England earlier in the year Sheila McLachlan with her drivers from Addingham, who will be taking a van full of practical essentials to help the victims of flooding which devastated parts of the south of England earlier in the year

For months the homes and possessions of flood victims have been submerged in water.

Only now can the residents of Somerset finally start to pick up the pieces of their lives which have been shattered by substantial flooding.

Swathes of land were swamped during the deluge earlier this year which devastated communities, causing particular hardship for farmers, who make their living from the land.

While the flood victims battle to re-build their lives, people across the country have rallied round in support.

In the Bradford district the Rotary Club of Ilkley and Wharfedale held collections raising more than £1,000 to be distributed by Rotarians in Somerset to those most affected by the floods.

Sheila McLachlan, of Addingham, felt an empathy with those whose homes had been devastated, having experienced a similar situation while growing up in a heavily-bombed area of Sunderland during the Second World War. “I was one of the diminishing group of people who were in the Blitz on the North East,” she said. “I knew something about what it was like to lose your home; ours was just damage, but we fought for our homes as tenaciously as those in the Somerset Levels have. We used sand but it was to put the incendiary bombs out, we were using sand but in a different way.”

“It was a different situation because it was war time but it gave me empathy with what was happening down there,” said Sheila.

“I was horrified but I didn’t know what to do, what we could do. It seemed to me all the village could bond with the villagers down there so they didn’t feel they had been forgotten.”

While it was Sheila’s idea to launch an appeal within Addingham, where she has lived for 50 years, she emphasises that it was a community effort. Within ten days of its launch, what began as a relatively small appeal became a full-scale effort.

Peter and Elizabeth Hadfield, who helped her by creating posters appealing for basic and practical items such as toiletries, are among the many people Sheila credits for their help and support. She said she could not have done it without them, or those who helped her empty her double garage, which was packed with essentials, by loading the items on to a van driven by two villagers to the Somerset Levels Flooding Refuge.

Sheila, a former parish councillor and grammar school teacher, recalls a local electrician giving her a new heater from his shop window; someone else drove over from Lancashire to drop off a microwave and other donations arrived on her doorstep.

Knowing that the flood victims already had blankets and clothing, Sheila focused on providing them with practical items for when they finally left temporary refuges and returned to their homes.

“Imagine yourself in your kitchen with five feet of water – they needed items like kitchen utensils, towels, disinfectant and cleaning things,” said Sheila, who also had support from local supermarkets. “It took over my life, I had people leaving things at the door. It ended up with my car outside the garage, and the garage full of practical things, anything to just tide somebody over until they could get back to normal life. These things have gone to people who need it, things are still desperate down there.”

In response to Sheila’s poster campaign, the village post office offered to be a collection point for people to drop off donations.

Postmistress Linda Dufton was happy to help. “It is appalling, you can’t imagine how bad it is for them,” she said. “They have lost everything, things that people don’t even think about – baby things, toys, it’s heartbreaking.”

Sheila is full of praise for her supporters. “I thank everybody who has helped in any way whatsoever,” she said.

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