Repairs, insurance and good publicity: How Storm Christoph affected flood-hit communities one year on

‘It’s just whether the rising costs to keep the store open is financially viable or not,’ one shop owner tells Zoe Tidman

Tuesday 18 January 2022 21:36
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<p>Brent Nile outside his barber shop during the flooding</p>

Brent Nile outside his barber shop during the flooding

This time last year, Clare Niven was busy moving stock around her clothes shop in Cheshire.

It was not for customers; her shop was shut due to lockdown. It was due to the water flowing into her store.

She was one of many who were hit by flooding during Storm Christoph, which covered hundreds of homes in water and forced thousands to evacuate a year ago. Northern areas and Wales were particularly badly hit in the deluge across 18 and 20 January.

In the Cheshire town of Northwich, more than 60 properties were flooded – most of these businesses like Niven’s, as well as houses, a school and a residential complex.

White Ribbon Boutique shop during flooding

With the town centre submerged, Niven was not able to drive to rescue thousands of pounds of stock in White Ribbon Boutique, a family business now covered in water nine inches deep. All she could do was put it as high up as she could, in the hope it survived the water seeping in.

“We just have to move things and then leave, which was a bit heartbreaking,” she tells The Independent.

But that was only the start of the story. After the flooding came the repairs, the insurance claims, throwing out ruined stock – which she estimates was 70 per cent of what was in the shop at the time – and the fear it could happen again.

The head of the Environment Agency told The Independent Storm Christoph was a harbinger of worsening “climate shocks” for the country. And towards the end of last year, she warned the climate crisis – which leads to heavier rainfall and rising sea levels – was increasing the UK’s flood risk.

When she sees heavy rain and storm forecast, “we start to fear for the stock and the shop”, Niven says.

A few minutes’ walk way along the river sits Brent Nile’s barbershop and bar. Both of these were covered by water around three feet high when Storm Christoph hit, he tells The Independent.

He did not have insurance, which he says was too expensive due to its position. It took around £13,000 and “work around the clock” to carry out all the repairs, Nile says.

Burdett’s barber shop in Northwich

Even so, he is not one to dwell on the negatives. “For every tear shed it’s not going to rebuild my businesses.”

One strange upside was his stores were thrust into the public eye. He tells The Independent: “If anything, we got more publicity out of the floods than anything else.”

While Niven did have insurance, this has now gone up after the January floods. “Obviously with footfall lower, it’s just whether the rising costs to keep the store open is financially viable or not.”

Other independent shops are being priced out of the high street due to the cost of flood insurance, which is changing the town of Northwich and reducing its pull for shoppers, she says.

Over in Wales, other communities have had their daily life affected by the long-lasting impacts of Storm Christoph.

In Wrexham, a major road collapsed during the heavy storm, removing a key route between a number of villages. A year on, it has still not been fixed, Sonia Benbow-Jones, a councillor for Cefn, tells The Independent.

While there is an option of taking a detour through a bypass or another village, options are reduced for those who do not drive, she says. “If you don’t have a car, you rely on public transport. There has been no public transport since the road collapsed.

It is “isolating” communities that are usually intertwined, the councillor adds.

In Northwich, the community came together to help each other after the flooding, Nile tells The Independent, with neighbours lending out tools and paint to help with repairs.

“You’ve got to, haven’t you, at times like that. If we weren’t already going through enough, we’re going through bloody worse as well.”

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