Come hell or high water, this shop will go on: How resilient repairs kept Cockermouth's Toy Shop open

Cockermouth has experienced three major floods in one decade.  Toy Shop owner, Jonty Chippendale was unfortunate to suffer from two of them, in both 2009 and 2015/16.  He explained what measures he took to prepare his business to be back trading almost as soon as the flood waters recede.

How long did it take you to reopen the Toy Shop following the 2009 floods?

In 2009, the floods that hit Cockermouth were extreme and engulfed the Toy Shop with over five feet (150cm) of water. It was dreadful and shocking, but once the water had gone we realised we had to work together to put the town back together. 

We had to go through a long drying process which took more than six months before many of us could reopen.  Due to safety issues, power was turned off.  Electricity suppliers removed consumer units (fuse boxes) from each business.  These took time to repair as installing new electrics was very expensive.  No consumer units meant no trade, no business and no money within our local area.  

What support did you receive in 2009?

The Chamber of Trade in Morpeth, which had been through a similar experience a year before, was really supportive.  Some members even came over to meet us.  They advised that we needed to work with the local councils to get them to drive through a rebuilding programme.

HRH The Prince of Wales also visited Cockermouth to see first-hand the devastation caused by the floods.  I met HRH, who was full of enthusiasm and offered the support of his Business Emergency Resilience Group (BERG).  The widespread media coverage – helped by HRH’s visit – all helped restore the idea that Cockermouth was open for business and was bouncing back.

What did you do to be better prepared for future floods? 

With guidance from BERG and funding support, I made a number of changes to help make the Toy Shop more resilient.  The shop now has concrete floors, concrete walls, plugs installed higher, horizontal bands around the bottom three feet (90cm) of walls and the bottom foot and a half (45cm) is water resilient.

Did these resilience measures make a difference to reopening times after last winter’s floods?

Massively!  Lessons learnt have been taken on board and we were more prepared.  Utility companies were more understanding and ready to help.  When it came to reopening; we didn’t really close. Within 24hours we were trading again. Keeping trade going and customers coming are vital. As local shops we keep the local economy circulating.

Where did you receive funding from for the resilient measures?

I received a £5,000 grant from the government to help pay for some of the resilience measures.  I think this grant is still available for householders and businesses impacted by the last winter’s floods.  Unfortunately, businesses can often miss out on some of the funding made available following flooding, so I would recommend taking advantage of this grant.

During the floods, did you feel there was a strong sense of community?

The worse thing about a natural disaster is that it is out of your control.  We are very lucky, there is a strong sense of community in Cockermouth.  When pushed into an emergency situation, community really does kick into action.

It is not until you start to gain control that the recovery process can start.  We had to come together as a community to get things up and running again, especially so after the 2009 floods.  

Do you have a message for other businesses affected by floods?

Following a crisis, it is important that businesses designate a senior member of staff to make decisions.  This helps things to happen quickly, rather than things being delayed and people waiting around being told what to do.

After the 2009 floods, we were exhausted, but there was less stress and issues of depression amongst people trading than those unable to. 

A message to other businesses would be, if you can find a way to trade - trade.  If you can keep trading, it’s good for your health and good for your business. It’s good for retaining your customer base and the day-to-day routine will keep you strong mentally.