Â£1m flood but a year on, Anchorsholme Academy is thriving
Fifty-five millimetres doesn't sound like much.
It’s 0.055 metres; smaller than a mouse’s tail and about the same height as a shot glass.
But when 55mm of rain fell on the Fylde cast in just hours exactly a year ago, it caused almost Â£1m damage to one school.
The flash flood left Anchorsholme Academy shut for the best part of two weeks as 14 classrooms had to be stripped and refurbished. And even after it re-opened pupils had to be taught in make-shift classrooms – and even the corridors.
That came as a minor miracle, such was the devastation.
More than 600 youngsters returned to the East Pines Drive school after carpets were re-laid, rooms cleared, and all three boilers repairs after they were submerged in four feet of water.
Staff, some of whom were left in tears, showed an indomitable spirit to get the doors back open so quickly.
And today, on the first anniversary of the catastrophe, headteacher Graeme Dow (left) reflected on the torrent that quickly swamped the popular school.
“It was after the parents’ evening, when I was closing the doors,” he said. “I noticed a big puddle outside, and that was the start of things to come, really.”
That was on Wednesday, November 22. The heavy downpour, which followed several days of rain, flooded a total of 300 nearby homes and 43 streets.
It left roads impassable, prized possessions ruined, gardens soaked in sewage, and left some residents homeless for months.
Mr Dow said the past year has rushed past: “We almost had to remind ourselves the anniversary was approaching and how devastating it was 12 months ago.
“I think it is because the amount of work and effort we have put into the school following the flooding that we almost forgot the event actually happened.”
The school was shut for seven days which meant learning was disrupted and parents had to take sudden and unexpected time off work. “It was a sad time, and there was definitely tears from some parents, staff, and pupils,” Graeme said.
“Despite the upset, we had no complaints from anyone, and a number of parents helped out during the repair process.
“It spurred us on, I think, and I doubt we would have been able to open in seven days if it wasn’t for the volunteers.”
Powering through their tiredness from 12 hour days stripping out classrooms rather than teaching in them, the hard work of staff meant youngsters were soon able to return to class – brollies in hand because, naturally, it was raining.
But it was not quite yet business as usual. Classes had to merge and were held in the library and corridors, with the “turmoil” lasting five months, Graeme said.
He added: “We had temporary carpets down in place but it was five months before the whole school was completely carpeted again.”
Around 1,000sqm of carpet was replaced, alongside furniture, and electrical equipment.
Graeme said a cheque from the water firm United Utilities (UU), for Â£1,200, was received in December last year.
“It was out of the blue and we hadn’t asked for it, so it seemed quite strange,” he said. “I have always thought maybe it was perhaps guilt money, but either way the funds did help the school during the repair work.”
A spokesman for United Utilities said: “It is not uncommon for us to make payments after a major flooding incident.
“Flooding is a complex issue and homes can be affected by water from sewers, watercourses or standing surface water.
“Sewer flooding happens during heavy rainfall if sewers overflow into nearby properties.
“Under our guaranteed service standards, we can pay discretionary compensation and refund the year’s wastewater charges if this occurs.
“Only some of the 300 homes affected last year were flooded with water from the sewers, and we sent a letter of explanation to these customers with their payment.”
This week, The Gazette revealed how a council meeting heard that preserving the quality of Blackpool’s bathing water took priority over protecting properties during the flooding.
UU said it was a “one-in-64-year storm”, with sewers already full due to rain on previous nights.
But bosses did not ask the Environment Agency for permission to pump water out to sea. Without permission, the privately-owned water firm could have been fined.
But councillors said the risk to homes – and Anchorsholme Academy – should have taken precedent.
Graeme said: “All I have heard are rumours. No-one has ever actually told me what the cause was.
“We had CCTV recording the flood. All you could see is the water continue to rise up to the point the whole school site is submerged in water.
“At around 1am to 2am in the morning, it goes very quickly, almost as if someone had pulled the plug somewhere.”
I just wish this had happened earlier in the evening, and perhaps the damage might not have been so bad.”
Graeme said: “There was a puddle that developed outside the front door but it wasn’t a major concern.
“But then it rained and rained and rained that night.
“I got up at 6am the next morning and I had three missed calls from the site supervisor. I said to him, ‘I take it we are flooded?’, and flooded we were.
“Every classroom except the Year 6 class, as that is on a bit of a rise, was under two to four inches of water.
“I’d say there was standing water in about 40 per cent of the school at 7am.
“Staff rolled their sleeves up, their trouser legs up and started bailing out the water.
“One of the sad things is we have just had the lovely new entrance opened two weeks [prior] and that was flooded.
“The loss adjusters arrived and did a walk around school and by 8am on the Friday they started ripping up the carpets and that continued over the weekend.”
Has it happened before?
“It was flooded 17 years ago but that was due to the sewage pumping station failing,” Graeme said.
“This was just rain water. It was a colossal amount of water that this area could not cope with.”
The school’s insurance company has put in “resilience strategy measures”, Graeme said, but he did not have full confidence there would be no repeat.
He asked: “Are the powers that be making sure it doesn’t happen again? I am not so sure they are.”