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Last Christmas Maidstone, Yalding and surrounding villages were hit by the most serious floods in a decade - and the effects are still being felt

By KentOnline reporter

Last December some of the worst floods in ten years turned Christmas into a nightmare for hundreds of families across Kent.

The sheer scale of the disaster caught many off guard; central Maidstone and Tonbridge town centre flooded, while Yalding was one of the worst-hit villages in the country.

Wateringbury and East Peckham also suffered badly.

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Maidstone town centre last year
Maidstone town centre last year

Emergency services including the coastguard rescued people from homes in Yalding late at on Christmas Eve, with 56 families spending Christmas in temporary accommodation.

Some were unable to return home for several weeks, and the impact of the flood is still being felt a year on.


Living with the damage

Celia Gudgeon has spent the past year living upstairs in her three-bedroom home with five members of her family.

The 70-year-old, who owns the property with her 72-year-old husband Bill, has had her daughter and two grandchildren living with her. They are Kay, 33 and Louise, 14, and Maisey, 12.

It was not until the end of October that a new kitchen, costing just under £12,000, was fitted.

Left to Right: Louise Wenham, 13, Maisie Wenham, 11, Kay Gudgeon, 32, and Celia Gudgeon, 68 in Yalding
Left to Right: Louise Wenham, 13, Maisie Wenham, 11, Kay Gudgeon, 32, and Celia Gudgeon, 68 in Yalding

They also spent £2,000 restoring their living room and a further £900 on carpets - with most of the money coming out of their own pocket.

Unable to get the property insured they took out a £6,000 loan against the value if their home and received a £5,000 repair and renew grant.

She said: “It’s been heartbreaking. We were living upstairs until the end of October. “It’s been two families living under one roof because my daughter’s home is ruined too.”

She added: “The new defences are no good to me, I’m 70. I probably won’t be here when it’s built and it’s going to flood before then.”

Major Timothy Oyler and wife Trish with their ruined possessions after the floods in Yalding
Major Timothy Oyler and wife Trish with their ruined possessions after the floods in Yalding

Trisha and Timothy Oyler’s living room shows no signs of last year’s destruction.

After spending weeks drying out their home in Acott Fields, Yalding, new floorboards and plaster have been fitted throughout the ground floor.

The expense has been covered by their insurers and Mrs Oyler said: “We’ve been very lucky with our insurance company, they have done excellently and gone the extra mile.

“Yalding is a fantastic village, the people here are wonderful and we’ve all pulled together to help everyone out including myself but we can’t take any more.

“Every time it’s raining I still look to the river from my window.

“A part of you always wonders if it’s going to happen again and you feel a lot of tension.”

Erica Olivares talks about how the flood has affected her

Video: Lives are still affected, despite the promises

The borough council has already handed out more than £106,000 in grants to repair flooded homes and it expects to give away another £338,025.

Earlier this month the fickle nature of progress was highlighted.

Straight after the government announced £17 million had been set aside for a huge flood defence project, Kent County Council, which earlier agreed to match this pledge, has not come up with its share.

That means a completion date of 2018 to raise the Leigh Barrier and build a flood storage area on the River Beult may not be realistic.


What caused the flooding?

The simple answer is too much rain over a concentrated period, according to experts at the Environment Agency.

Incessant downpours in the weeks leading up to the disaster left rivers high and the ground waterlogged - and the earlier October storm clogged waterways with fallen trees and branches, exacerbating the pressure on riverbanks.

More rain the weekend before Christmas was the final straw.

Floods from Maidstone Bridge in 2000. Picture: John Wardley
Floods from Maidstone Bridge in 2000. Picture: John Wardley

Tim Norton, from the Environment Agency, explains: "The reason it happened in the way it did was to do with the weather patterns we had in a sequence.

"We got a lot of Atlantic storms tracking across us which brought rain and strong winds that brought down a lot of trees which caused issues.

"It wasn’t that we had a really heavy rainfall in any one event. We just had one after the other after the other, and each time the rivers rose, then fell away again.

"But if you get another rainfall event immediately after that, the rivers don’t get the chance to return to their original level so we had an escalator of river levels.

"So when we had that big rainfall event just before Christmas the river levels were already high and we got this really large flood right across the Medway catchment."

Bar manger Trevor Ball on how the flood has affected his business

Coping with floods

While every flood event is different, there are measures people can take to prepare for the worst.

Tim Norton, from the Environment Agency, said:"Last winter nearly 1,000 homes were flooded and we don’t underestimate that. Those are people’s homes, lives and property which in some cases have been devastated."

The central message, says Mr Norton, is to heed the warnings and be prepared.

Volunteers can make a big difference if a plan is in place according to the Environment Agency. Explorer Scouts Laura, 13, and Joseph Wilson, 17, helping with the rescue effort last year.
Volunteers can make a big difference if a plan is in place according to the Environment Agency. Explorer Scouts Laura, 13, and Joseph Wilson, 17, helping with the rescue effort last year.

He said: "The first thing I’d like to underline is when they get a flood warning, that’s the time to act.

"A flood warning is the time to act. Don’t delay, don’t wait to act" - Tim Norton

"We’ve had a lot of conversations with people where they’ve said: ‘I got a flood warning, but I was waiting for a severe flood warning before I did anything.

"Sometimes that severe flood warning isn’t issued. A flood warning is the time to act. Don’t delay, don’t wait to act. Do something when you get a flood warning because that is when properties will start to flood."

And if you know your area is at risk, knowing in advance what you're going to do to save yourself and mitigate the damage can make a big difference, says Mr Norton.

He said: "It’s important to remember floods cause a lot of damage to property, but floods kill people. The most important thing is keeping yourself safe.

"Make a personal flood plan. What do I need to do to safeguard my property? What are the valuables that I need to move to keep them safe, what are the things I need to turn off? What do I need to do to my particular property to protect it and myself?"

Parts of Maidstone town centre were left underwater
Parts of Maidstone town centre were left underwater

In a similar way, the Environment Agency is encouraging areas affected by flooding to come up with their own plan should the worst happen.

"Being prepared and knowing what your going to do, and knowing what can be done to reduce flood risk, is very important" - Tim Norton

He said: "We are working with communities to make sure that community can look after itself.

"The unfortunate truth is that no one organisation is able to do everything that peole and communities would like during a flood because the impacts are so wide-ranging.

"Being prepared and knowing what your going to do, and knowing what can be done to reduce flood risk, is very important."

Measures taken by some communities in Kent include flood warning systems, as well as planned road closures, supplies of sandbags and other temporary defences, and designating a safe refuge for those worst affected.

In the most advanced plans, communities have teams of volunteers, ready to act at the first sign of a dangerous flood.

Mr Norton said: "Each community is in a different place. Some are really well prepared. Edenbridge has an emergency plan for the town, they have volunteers, they know what they are going to do with those volunteers.

"They carry out an emergency exercise each year with those volunteers. They know their particular risk, and they have planned, trained and exercised against that risk, and that means they are well prepared to react when the flood comes. Yalding is another good example."


The struggle for businesses

Drakes was a thriving town centre bar, but today it is just a shell left to rot while insurers work out the best way to deal with a listed building directly opposite the river.

Nick Griffin, managing director of Pleisure Pubs, the chain that ran Drakes for 12 years before the waters came, found out four days before his pub was flooded that his insurance company, Millburn, went bust.

It has left him unable to claim the costs of the losses incurred and forced to run seven other pubs with the rent expenses of eight.

Drakes on Christmas Day 2013
Drakes on Christmas Day 2013

The cost of fixing things will come under the insurance of his landlord, Enterprise Inns, which owns the site.

He said: “We have been to every insurance company and no one will insure us unless we pay a ridiculous premium, which would be more than the profit we make in a year.”

Another Landlord, Henry Long has owned Yalding’s Anchor Inn for 30 years but has spent the last 11 years uninsured because of the building’s flood risk.

The last year has been difficult with more than £20,000 from his own pocket being used to repair the pub and restaurant in Hampstead Lane.

He received £5,000 from a council grant - but that just about covered the cost of two new boilers.

Henry Long was picked up by a neighbour with a boat on Christmas Day from the Anchor Inn & Hotel in Yalding. Picture: Martin Apps
Henry Long was picked up by a neighbour with a boat on Christmas Day from the Anchor Inn & Hotel in Yalding. Picture: Martin Apps

The 78-year-old said: “We are open but it’s not been a great year. We don’t have many bookings ahead of Christmas.

“It’s been an endless list of things to repair, and a lot of things you don’t think of. You pick up the drill to do some work then you realise that’s been under water too.

“We’ve put in new carpets, bought a couple of new fridges, furniture, a lawn mower, outside tables because they were washed away. It goes on. I’ve still got to put a back fence up and that will be about £600.”

Sign up for flood warnings from the Environment Agency.

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