#backtobusiness: Life is returning to normal after Ironbridge floodwater subsides

Chris Harrison and Sharon Shenton were supposed to have been celebrating two years of running their café on February 16 – instead they were having to deal with a flood.

Chris Harrison and Sharon Shenton from Dale End Café with the catering trailer donated to them by Telford Transport Solutions
Chris Harrison and Sharon Shenton from Dale End Café with the catering trailer donated to them by Telford Transport Solutions

But it was just the beginning for the husband-and-wife team who run the Dale End Café in Coalbrookdale.

Their business would be flooded three times in the space of a fortnight. At the time Chris said he was seriously wondering if it was worth the bother, but the heart-warming response from his loyal staff and customers meant he knew he had to carry on.

“I have lost everything,” said Chris after the third flood on February 28. “If it wasn’t for the community behind us, I would have given up the ghost by now.”

Neighbours piled in to remove the floodwater and their staff, who had to be laid off when the café closed, offered to work for nothing to help it get back on its feet.

It will be a while before their café is restored to its former glory, but the couple are back in business now thanks to a mobile kitchen donated by Telford Transport Solutions.

Chris Harrison in Dale End Cafe, which has had to be completely gutted due to the floods

Loyal customer Julie Ward set up a fundraising webpage after the second flood, and raised £1,680 in its first few days. Ms Ward, who is behind the Let’s Go Quackers trail around Ironbridge and Telford, says Chris and Sharon had supported her fundraising efforts in the past, and now it was time to repay them.

“They are just the most special, genuine and lovely couple I have ever met,” she says. “It’s just like being in Chris and Sharon’s kitchen. It’s always such a happy place. When I found out what had happened I was in floods of tears. I know how much the café means to them, they make everyone feel welcome.”

When the sheer volume of water threatened to overwhelm the temporary flood barriers protecting the public in Ironbridge from the River Severn on February 18, the authorities had only one option – a swift evacuation.

As Environment Agency workers battled with the forces of nature to prevent the town being submerged, residents were directed to a nearby bar where they would be found hotel accommodation.

Flood barriers in Ironbridge

Not everybody took up the offer. But when the sheer force of water shunted the barriers back several feet, there was no choice but to declare a major incident, and all but two of the residents agreed to move out.

Among those displaced was chairman of Ironbridge Parish Council Rae Evans, who was put up in the nearby Valley Hotel. She says while being forced to leave a much-loved home was inevitably going to be traumatic, it also brought the community together in a way she had never seen before.

“The community came together amazingly,” she says. “Friendships have been built, a new sense of caring for people. If people didn’t know who their neighbours were before they do now, having spent time together in the hotel. I think we have got more of a sense of community than we had before the floods.”

Councillor Evans says she is grateful Telford & Wrekin Council put residents up in the Valley Hotel, as it meant they were close to their homes, and they could watch what was going on.

Rescuers help a resident find safety

Mike Perks, 64, who keeps Cleo’s Cocktail Bar in the town, was just getting ready to close for the night on February 17 when he received a call asking if his premises could be used as a command-and-control centre for the workers. “We got the call at 11 o’clock at night asking if we could provide room for the workers to be based in,” said Mr Perks.

And when the flood defences began to buckle on February 26, there were real concerns that things could get very serious indeed.

Chief Superintendent Tom Harding said some people were very reluctant to leave their homes or businesses. “We now have just two properties which the owners are refusing to leave,” he said at the time.

Councillor Evans says life in Ironbridge is largely back to normal now.

“Most of the retailers are open and doing business,” she said.

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