When the Provincial Grand Master, Stuart Hadler, launched his appeal on February 17 he did not appreciate the level of support that would be received from Somerset lodges and from Freemasons around the country
Hoping to achieve £50,000, the Somerset Masonic Flood Recovery Fund has passed £125,000 and has become one of the four major contributors to the Somerset Flood Appeal.
The Provincial Grand Master has been overwhelmed by the generosity not only of brethren in Somerset but of many other Provinces and, of course, The Freemasons' Grand Charity.
Commenting, Stuart Hadler said: 'The concern shown towards those in great need on the Somerset Levels by brethren from far and wide has been overwhelming. We will be able to make a most significant contribution to helping families and communities to recover and rebuild over the coming months. The need is immense. With the continuing contribution of brethren and Lodges in Somerset, I hope that we will be able to achieve a target of £175,000.
'I express my heartfelt thanks to all those who are supporting the appeal.'
The Provincial Grand Master has also announced that he is setting up a Flood Recovery Grants Committee to work with the Somerset Community Foundation to identify and approve grants for suitable projects. A number of areas of possible support are being clarified that will aid individuals and communities in their recovery. This committee will be lead by John Winston, AsstProvGM, and include brethren with knowledge of the Somerset Levels.
The Somerset Community Foundation (SCF), having been tasked to provide financial support to those affected by the floods, launched an appeal for £150,000 in January. It quickly became clear that in the months ahead a far greater sum would be required, not only to provide emergency grants to those in need, but much more would be needed to support the recovery and re-building of lives and communities. The SCF set up a system for emergency grant payments. Since January this has helped over 200 households and awarded over £120,000. Through working alongside community workers and other organisations longer term needs have begun to be identified.
Having recognised that the SCF would be well placed to identify genuine need and manage the use of grants, Stuart Hadler elected to use the SCF as the main route through which Freemasonry could best support those affected by the floods. The Emergency Grant phase was adequately covered by donations to the SCF. The subsequent stages of recovery and rehabilitation would take yet more money and fill gaps not covered by government, other agencies and insurance.
The SCF has now increased its target to £1,000,000. This week £750,000 has been received including over £125,000 allocated by the Somerset Masonic Recovery Fund. A tremendous achievement on the part of Freemasonry.
Peter Whyman CBE, Chairman of the SCF said, 'On behalf of the Board of Trustees of the Community Foundation may I thank everyone involved in raising this money which I am certain will make a real difference to the communities currently affected so badly by the flooding'.
Current flood situation
We have all seen and heard reports of the personal experiences of those affected by the flooding on the Levels. At its height around 200 households were affected and of those 90 families were evacuated, in many instances with little notice and therefore without the chance to collect and take clothing and personal effects.
This week (beginning of March) the reduced rainfall and pumping efforts have seen the waters begin to subside and some residents have for the first time been able to visit their homes. They have witnessed severe water damage and contamination of their homes, sewage pollution and staggering accumulations of debris. One can but imagine the horror, heartbreak, overwhelming sense of loss and hopelessness experienced when faced with a much-loved home that has effectively been devastated and devalued.
The process of drying out, clean-up, repair and restoration will take months.
Loss adjusters are beginning the process of assessing the damage. Many of those affected have been advised that it will be up to twelve months before they will be able to return. In some cases homes are beyond repair. The impact on house values can be imagined. Some families will have had enough and look to move elsewhere. It has been estimated that around 25% of properties are uninsured and others underinsured because of the high premiums required.
The floods have also affected many small businesses that offer local employment and services. They too will need financial and practical assistance to find alternative premises, re-equip and address cash-flow issues.
Village and community life has been disrupted, in part because of being cut-off or having extended journeys to move from one place to another. Community facilities are out of action. Many residents have been evacuated or moved away temporarily.
The farming community has had pasture under water for weeks, fodder and foodstuffs destroyed. Livestock has either been moved or sold. Some farms remain under water and will be out of action for a considerable time. Many areas remain under water.
While the various agencies have been present on the ground and provided a range of help and support, much of what has been needed has been provided by a huge groundswell of voluntary effort and community spirit. This has responded to individual and collective needs, lobbied for support and assistance and been very successful in maintaining morale and mutual support.
Many individuals and groups have come together and participated in the emergency relief effort.