A year after the Tewkesbury floods, dozens of families still cannot return to their homes

Residents of the Gloucestershire town say the Government's promise of extra funding is too little, too late. Emily Dugan reports
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Indy Politics

Sue Moisey looks in dismay over the building site that was once her family home. It is exactly a year since gallons of flood water poured into her house in Tewkesbury, leaving a trail of destruction.

The 47-year-old has spent the past 12 months crammed into a tiny caravan in her driveway with her husband, Andrew, and their three children, Yann, 15, Nadia, 12 and Kian, 9. This weekend, as thousands of parents voluntarily take their kids on holiday in caravans, the Moiseys are one of more than 50 displaced families in Tewkesbury dreading the thought of another summer spent in theirs.

"I was desperate to be out by the school holidays because it's going to be a nightmare," says Mrs Moisey, who had hoped the work on their house would be finished before the summer term, giving Yann a place to study for his GCSEs. Instead, the children have taken to doing schoolwork sitting on the loo inside their house – one of the few warm places with a seat and a decent light.

For many people in Tewkesbury, today marks an anniversary they would rather forget. In Gloucestershire as a whole, more than 500 families have yet to return to their homes, and in Tewkesbury alone 56 households are still living in caravans, 124 are staying with friends and a further 30 are only able to use the upper half of their houses.

Becky Jeal has recently been appointed as a flood support co-ordinator, working in the community to help people rebuild their lives. She says the 2007 floods have left many emotionally scarred: "There's a lot of fear still in Tewkesbury. Flooding creates issues that stay with people for ever. Some have suffered quite badly from depression, and every time it rains they think, 'Where are the children?' When there's a heavy downpour, people get really concerned."

Sue Bunce, 65, begins to cry as pictures of last year's floods appear on her television screen. She and her husband, Ray, have just moved back into their bungalow in the Newtown area of Tewkesbury after spending a year waiting for water damage to be repaired. Through sobs she says: "I just feel it's such a waste – a waste of money, and a waste of people's lives. It's a whole year that's been ruined. All the energy that's gone into rebuilding all this could have built mountains."

Now the Bunces' home insurance excess has gone up to £10,000 and they live in fear of the waters striking again. Mrs Bunce says she finds herself worrying whenever it rains: "It's always at the back of your mind; you feel so vulnerable. I don't think I could cope with going through all that again."

Her next-door neighbours, Catherine and Derek Baker, have been unluckier still. Living in a tiny and immaculately kept two-birth caravan in their driveway, they are desperate to return to their house. But with bare concrete floors and no furniture it looks like there will be another month to wait yet.

"People have forgotten that we're still here," says 64-year-old Mrs Baker. "Because we were in a bungalow we lost everything. Other people could at least live upstairs – all we've got left is in the garage in a handful of boxes.

"Our insurance has gone up loads, but your pension doesn't go up to cover it. Even so, we wouldn't go through all this again, I think we'd just hand the keys to the insurance company and walk away."

On Thursday, the Local Government minister, John Healey, visited the town and pledged a further £31m to help the nationwide recovery programme. But only £4.1m of this will go to Gloucestershire, a sum the people of Tewkesbury have described, without irony, as "a drop in the ocean".

As the borough mayor, Brian Calway, says: "The flood recedes, Brown recedes, and other issues come to the foreground. The Government took an interest at the time but that does not address the underlying problem we've got."

Councillor Phil Awford, who was mayor when the floods hit last year and now sits on the National Flood Forum, says that the Government needs to provide substantial funding for a new drainage channel to prevent this happening again. "When you're talking about human suffering and human lives, what price can you talk about? People's lives are ruined by flooding and some people will never recover. There are people with acute depression, and children are anxious every time the rain comes."

Tomorrow a delegation from the town will go to Westminster to lobby for more help in rebuilding their lives. Their leader, Canon Paul Williams, says: "The policy-makers and politicians are going to have to take the voice of the people seriously."

For businesses in Tewkesbury, the past year has been a struggle. On Church Street, the main road going through the town, many of the shops and restaurants were destroyed by the water that flowed like a river.

Matt Gabb runs My Great Grandfather's restaurant, which sits halfway down the street and was engulfed. He had opened the business only three years before and, after insurers refused to pay out for £40,000 of damage done to the listed building, has been left with crippling debt.

"It will take 10 years to pay off," says Mr Gabb, who lives above the business with his wife, Shiho, and six-year-old daughter, Aimi. "It's a worry because, when I bought the place, we took out a large mortgage, and now we've got that extra payment every month."

But today Tewkesbury wants to show the world that it has moved on from the floods. A week-long celebration called "Tewkesbury back in business" will culminate in thousands gathering to hug the church for an aerial photograph, to replace the famous image of the building as an island in flood water.

"When people talk about Tewkesbury, the image of the abbey surrounded by water is what they think of," says Canon Williams, who is heading up the campaign. "We want to get together and stand around the abbey as the flood water did and say: 'Look at us now'."

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