In a place better known for its gently rolling hills and nestling villages of glistening honey stone, the deluge that hit the Cotswolds, paralysing the city of Gloucester and the market towns of Cheltenham, Tewkesbury and Stroud, was a shocking event.
Locals were left rolling their tongues around such unfamiliar words as “bowsers” and “sandbags” and panic buying at Tesco replaced a stroll around the farmers’ market. Beautiful homes and thriving companies, the kind so often featured in the pages of Cotswold Life, for which I write the business pages, were devastated and displaced.
Yet the local media, as the people themselves, did their utmost to carry on regardless and reflected the general, and genuine, spirit of everyone pulling together.
While stories featured in the national press reported isolated, and quite possibly apocryphal, incidents of unidentified youths urinating in said bowsers and looting the hurriedly emptied homes, the daily Gloucester Citizen took an altogether more upbeat and positive tone, making much of the local pizza restaurant keeping hungry firefighters going and the efforts of the town’s traders to help less-fortunate patrons. Its letters pages were full of rousing letters of thanks and support.
Similarly upbeat, the Citizen’s sister paper, Cheltenham’s Gloucestershire Echo, reported how “good Samaritan” neighbours had carried a young woman in labour through the rain to a waiting ambulance – cue pictures of the healthy baby boy.. Equally resolute were the couple who probably wished they had never heard of Tewkesbury, let alone decided to celebrate their marriage there, still smiling after a disastrously washedout wedding. The letters pages were full of gratitude and praise, highlighting the sense of community created by being thrown, quite literally in some cases, into the same boat as their neighbours.
The local dailies have played an important part in keeping their readers in touch – in one instance, distributing copies of the Echo by kayak. Perhaps their efforts will be rewarded by reader loyalty in the months to come.
The weekly newspapers, by definition less reactive during a crisis situation changing by the hour, went for more of an overview. The Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard, which serves the Cotswolds around Cirencester and Tetbury, decided that pictures said more than words when it came to The Great Flood, as it dubbed the “downpour of biblical proportions”. It was a good call, and readers contributed many of their own images to tell their personal story of the flood’s effects.
Meanwhile, the Stroud News and Journal took a slightly more combative tone, asking tart questions about Severn Trent Water’s contingency plans and why sandbags were delivered with no sand. The clean-up and consequences for local business are clearly going to be keenly watched by those at the SNAJ.
While the main national news bulletins were broadcast live from the lapping water in Gloucester, sometimes by presenters uncomfortably appearing to wish they were at home in Notting Hill, both ITV and BBC local news teams came into their own. Most of Gloucestershire used to be served by ITV’s Central News South, greatly lamented by those of us now forced to watch the lacklustre and largely irrelevant Thames Valley Tonight.
Chief Gloucester reporter Ken Goodwin, based in the city for 20 years, gave a real air of authority on the situation of reports that now go out for ITV West – clearly a man who knew all about the background to the floods and the right questions to ask.
Also not afraid to get their wellies wet were Steve Knibbs and Seb Choudhury for BBC Points West, both local lads who gave strong accounts of how the water had infiltrated every aspect of life in their patch – and who were likely to be heading home to the same dry taps and flooded roads they had highlighted on their day shift.