Churches support those hit by flooding
Published on 6 January, 2016
With Scotland enduring record levels of rainfall, communities across the country are experiencing the devastating effects of flooding. Local churches are lending a helping hand to people in crisis, where the greatest impacts have been felt.
In Ballater, one of the worst-affected spots in Scotland, Rev David Barr took the Prince of Wales on a tour to show him the damage. The town is full of flooded out homes, water-logged businesses and underwater roads. Fire crews have been pumping out the electricity substation, which has been repeatedly threatened by the rising waters.
"Four hundred and eight-five properties have been affected," he says. "So if each home has two residents on average, that's about 970 people who need accommodation."
Many of those driven from their homes are staying with neighbours, Mr Barr said. Others have been housed in a local barracks. The manse is surrounded by water but so far remains dry indoors. Last Wednesday it became a refuge for about 40 people, mainly mums, kids and folk who had to leave the local care home.
The minister has been working with Stonehaven Housing to help people into homes, and with the Princes Trust to furnish them.
Mr Barr, who has been in the parish for just over a year, is one of many local residents who have hardly slept since the floods began. Glenmuick Church has opened a soup kitchen in the back and a food bank and support centre in the front.
Along with Father Chris Brown from St Nathalan's Roman Catholic Church and Reverend Vittoria Hancock of St Kentigern's Episcopal Church he's been trying to make sure vulnerable and elderly residents are safe.
"Some people are frustrated because insurance companies have said they'll be there and then didn't show up," Mr Barr said. "So just having someone to listen is important.
"It's like a war zone here. It's been absolute mayhem. People are at the end of their tether but we are coping. Thankfully, I have help from above."
Newton Stewart in South West Scotland has also seen its worst flooding since 1958, says Rev. Edward Lyons minister at Penninghame Church. The flood came and went in 24 hours leaving behind a huge mess to clean up.
"The River Cree has come over the retaining wall before, but usually it just floods the car park," Mr Lyons explains.
"This time the wall collapsed and the water came into Main Street. It was knee to waist high depending where you were. That's never happened before."
Church members were among many local residents who went out to help flooded local businesses put down sandbags. And the Church reached out to Riverside Day Centre which serves elderly people in the parish.
"Their premises were completely wrecked, and because they are a charity we got on board," says Mr Lyons.
"Penninghame's congregation helped basically gut the place. And we have told them they can run the day centre from the Church until such time as they can return. Their floor was ruined and their larder. They also have a hairdresser's there. It really is a hub for them so it was a big loss."
In Perth, flood water reached the basement of St Matthews, but didn't reach electricity supplies and was quickly pumped out.
"A friend of our property convener who has a pump came over and helped us so we managed to clear out all the water last night," says Rev Scott Burton. "It was marvellous, a real community team effort.
Mr Burton is well known locally as a keen white water kayaker and is no stranger to the river.
"I've been here nine years and that's the highest I've ever seen the River Tay. I love the river and love being out on the water—but not when it's in our basement."
A small area of the town was under four feet of water Tuesday and some people were evacuated from ground floor homes, but so far Perth's flood defences have held, Scott says. Now residents are just hoping they will stay that way.
"There's a little anxiety because we have more snow and rain forecast," he said. "But so far so good."
In Cumbria, many communities have suffered their third serious episode of flooding in 10 years with over 6000 homes and hundreds of businesses,schools and community buildings affected.
The Church of Scotland in Carlisle could not be reached for worship due to road and bridge closures on the first Sunday in December and was left without power for a week. Once electricity was restored, its 'Doves' cafe offered free soup and hot drinks to those affected by the floods.
Rev David Pitkeathly is minister at The Border Kirk and says they've been doing what they can to help.
"A small number of members have had to leave their homes and now live with relatives or in temporary accommodation. In common with others, they have had traumatic tales to tell and we've been providing pastoral support.
The Church of Scotland is part of a broader Christian initiative in the city aiming to provide long term assistance to the people. As well as practical advice, we've also been able to operate a programme of caring door to door visits. We have valued immensely the phone calls and offers of help from within the wider Church family here and north of the border in Scotland."