As a kid I loved old western films.
They were escapism.
Not the cowboys I was always on the side of the Indians , I’d be devistated when tipi’s were burned Indians homes moved .
Equally id be thrilled when cowboys lost.
Spending much of my time as a kid outdoors avoiding my family it was the outdoor living that appealed to me.
When the fair came to the estate id be drawn like a moth to a flame.
Caravans outdoor living.
A tribe that lives differently on the outskirts of the norm. over the years I guess not much has changed .
I’d rather sleep under canvas then in a house I’m lucky to have found my hubby who is equally as in love with the outdoor life.
As you know I live on a canal in small cottage in Wales .
Tiny street twenty nine cottages and a converted chapel.
Behind each door is a different story.
It’s not a street of shiny cars and neighbors that don’t know who lives next door .
It’s my tribe very like an accidental commune .
Extended family I love this place and it’s people.
We range from Mick who’s 83, to Rachel and her babies at top of the street .
Mental health, vulnerable adults, kids, teenagers , self employed, unemployed, widows married couples and single mams.
You may know also have a second cottage Ravens Retreat at the back of it is my therapy cabin.we provide completely free breaks for cancer patients / mental health and counseling for veterans.
All in memory of my best friend Donna Drewson.
Who sadly left us on 11.09.2018
As a community we are quite a diverse lot but we fit.
Like a jigsaw.
Like those Indians in the westerns .
It’s feels particularly like that at the moment.
We are like the Indians that are desperately trying to protect and fight for their sacred land. .
The cowboys are national resource Wales,
Neath council ,
And leeders port tenant canal.
It’s a battle since or home were flooded by first storm Callum Oct 2018
Then Feb 2020 by Storm Dennis
Most of us lost everything on ground floors of our homes. Plus our cars .
Me and my hubby lost everything in our cottage, ravens Retreat. and our healing room .
Under 3 foot of sewage .
It’s funny that when something like this happens you have no time to be heart broken although of course I was. But from the min that water spewed up through the toilet bath and the letter box you go into some sort of surreal automatic pilot.
When the last deluge came I was standing under the under pass at 2.30am in morning with Jon my neighbor we were praying it wouldn’t breach the wall.
Suddenly a red van stopped on the bridge overhead and shouted at us to get back to RUN .
it was like a bad horror film a huge tree was blocking the bridge acting as a dam .
So we ran..
Rain pouring as we ran down the uneven toe path, stumbling in pot holes.
Through my front door over the two pathetic sand bags we had been given by the council.
Heart banging in my head as I shouted to Jeff who was taking things upstairs.
I looked out the window and the water came over the wall like a wave.
The canal became a river and poured over the garden wall I shouted again to Jeff and we preceded to try to stop the water.
It was pointless .
But we tried .
Towels at back of front door and in letterbox .
I ran to the back door the most foul smell as the raw sewage spewed like horror movie sewage chocolate fountains..
I slipped and fell onto the kitchen floor within minutes my tiny dog was swimming.
I shouted to Jeff we have to help the twins .
Erica and Joanna live next door and I could hear them crying.
Jeff looked at me wading in water I begged him to come upstairs.
We were soaking everything was floating.
Still I’m on auto pilot
I open back bedroom window shout to the girls next door to stay up stairs .
As I phone fire brigade.
I need the toilet but it’s downstairs. Jeff fetches a bucket .
The fire brigade are on their way and all lights go out. It’s pitch black I light tea lights the cat comes through the bedroom window.
I hear sirens .
They are coming to front of houses with dinghys
I shout down I’m not coming tell them to get the twins out.
They tell me I have to leave .. but I don’t ..
I shut the bedroom window
I can’t I don’t know why but I just can’t go.
Morning comes we haven’t slept I tried I keep hearing the man in the van shouting run! The girls crying the water is still high .
The smell is vile.
I worrying about Ravens retreat my cabin.
The patients that are relying on us for breaks for treatments.
Jeff holds me..
Don’t worry he says I’ll fix it.
Three words that ruin me.
He’s almost sixty he’s fit and good for his age a grafter he’s done it after the last flood .
Having to do it again
This was not the plan.
We have no insurance.
We did have after first flood then they wouldn’t cover us .
Don’t think about it he says it will be okay .
We start to bail.
My phone rings .
Colleges from NHS friends are all on their way .
My daughter who’s I’ll with auto immune collitus Wade’s through 3 foot of water to rescue my dog and kitten.
The clean up begins AGAIN.
as the water leaves the cottages. We are left with a layer of sewage coating everything.
We move from each others houses supporting each other .
Men lifting out furniture .
Carpets laminate floors.
Children’s toys .
People’s lives pile up Infront of there ruined homes .
Council wagons take it away then come back for more.
The media arrive they call us the forgotten street.
I’m at the front to be interviewed determined needing everyone to know we need help.
We need the promised preventative measures.
Telling them this is the second time .
Begging for help
A young couple stand outside their home newly weds.
The letting agent arrives tells them their tenency is ended.
They stand in wet sewage soaked clothes homeless.
I want to scream to cry.
The electricity comes back on I offer to make soup for everyone then realize the cooker is full of sewage.
I ring my boss explain.
Ask for emergency leave .
Carry on cleaning people bring food , strangers come to help,
Eventually both cottages are empty .
The boiler in retreat is 6 months old is ruined.
My cabin my books everything gone.
My daughter tweeted my story I was contacted about the Retreat by Michael Sheen .
Who wanted to help.
That was the point the tears came.
Tears of relief .
I don’t mind not having things fixed in our house but the thought of letting people down in Ravens Retreat who were end of life loosing free holidays killed me.
I felt helpless.
Michael offered to get our oil boiler repairs sorted which was my biggest expense and one I just couldn’t afford. Im honestly I’m beyond grateful.
I know he’s famous well know and lives part time in the States. but he’s a valleys Welsh man who knows his roots and cares, really cares about others about things that matter . I honestly can never thank him enough.
He then went on to raise money for flood victims all over Wales .donations came in from everywhere .
The Ravens Retreat benefited from that too replacing our ruined front door and windows .
We now don’t have a letterbox!
I’m so in awe of people’s kindness.
That was February the Corona virus came In march .
Every thing stopped.
The forgotten street our canalside tribe was forgotten again.
By all those agencies who had previously promised us preventative measures.
Where were the people to dredge the river?
The people to higher the wall?
to clear the aqueduct?
The water board to fix the drains the surveyors to check the walls under the British legion.
Social distancing they said.
Higher up the valley there was work in the rivers.
Here in Canalside nothing.
It was locked down we were stuck we started a Facebook page a private page for our residents our tribe Canalside.
We sorted out shopping reassured everyone that needed help shared shopping had veg delivered cooked for others we went on to work on our houses.
We did what we could it was surreal the world has stopped but we had to carry on to rebuild our canal side paradise.
I had to think of something so I suggested that we clear the river ourselves.
There is tons and tons of debris. The bridge arches and the aqueduct had been smashed in the last storm they had promised us it would be removed it was now June if it wasn’t done before September we’ve been the same position again. Another flood.
Every time it rained the anxiety within me would rise.
So I organised a street clear up of the river bed.
I contacted Michael Sheen told him about plans and asked if he could help.
We rang ITV news. They told me they were still filming Corona virus news.
I told them Michael would be there.
That swung it.
That day was awesome.
Mick 83 and Colin 71 in charge of wheelbarrows.
Paul balenced on a a deralict aquaduct.
Lee , wynne, moereen
Everyone from the street who could be there was there all sporting orange buckets it rained but we didn’t care we were in the river socially distancing.
Paul and Jude are shielding we took photos to keep them in the loop.
Of us moving debris showing the UK how much we loved our street how we wouldn’t be forgotten we were tribe.
The twins were there, Rachel with the children ,
Vicky, Mave, Gemma and the kids Stuart, Steve, Jon and Anna .
Michael Sheen was amazing he told them our story that he had the platform to be heard and rightly said that without him our voices should still be heard.
National resoures Wales turned up and promised us that before the end of July there would be machinery in the river to clear 600 tons of stones of trees of debris it felt like a victory a small one but at last something was being done.
Last week they arrived I was so thrilled when I saw them in the river I sobbed I don’t think I’d realise how much the whole situation was affecting me at that moment I did.
News travels fast and before long we are all up looking over the wall all everyone smiling.
We have a meeting setup for the end of the month you asked everyone to attend all the agencies they have promised his help.
The day after they started to clear the river they stopped not because they’ve finished because they’d only just started maybe they’ll be back the day after we thought.
But they haven’t been back.
Another item to be discussed at the meeting.
I sat here today and suddenly the reality hit me it’s almost August we could be flooded in September .
We haven’t recovered from the last flood.
How hard can it be to put the preventative measures in place to save our homes to save us our tribe. If someone were badly hurt or killed but they do it then?
Will it cost a life?
I will be like the Indians will they move us from this sacred place the place that we love.
It isn’t just our cottages it’s each other who will help the twins?
Who will cook for Mick? Who will Jeff laugh and joke with if John and Steve are not there?.
Why are we forgotten?
It breaks my heart to think the everything I have dreamed of everything that Jeff has built for me this retreat ravens retreat could be gone everything here for cancer patients for for mental health for war veterans.
Cottage breaks counselling psychotherapy it’s all free.
Years ago when I tell people what I plan to do do most people said you can’t do that for free.
Because I know no it’s a bit isn’t free there will always be someone who misses out someone who can’t afford it so it had to be free and it’s worked I’ve had the most amazing people stay with us they come as strangers and they leave as friends and to think that this could end now that really does break my heart.
Because in reality we have two houses on a flood plain that are worth nothing and a cancer retreat that is ireplaceable.
It’s a feeling of helplessness but we won’t stop fighting until the agencies involved listen to us for we are canalside we are tribe.