Guy Warner and his team took just eight weeks to reopen a flooded store. Gaelle Walker finds out how

The summer of 2007 will be remembered for many things: foot and mouth; Tim Henman's last professional tennis match at Wimbledon; Tony Blair stepping down as leader of the Labour party; and who could forget the infamous Big Brother race row?
But for Guy Warner, managing director of Warners Retail, and hundreds of other retailers in parts of Northern Ireland, North East England, the Midlands and Wales, the summer of 2007 means only one thing: water - and lots of it.
The flooding that hit the UK in June and July of 2007 was among the worst in recorded history. At least seven people were killed, and about 350,000 people in Gloucestershire were left for days without clean water.
By the end of the summer, the Association of British Insurers had put the cost of the damage at £3bn, after hundreds of houses, shops and businesses were engulfed by the muddy waters.
One such business was Guy Warner's five-year-old Budgens-branded forecourt store in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire. Nestled only just above flood level at the junction of the Severn and Avon rivers, the small village of Tewkesbury was one of the worst hit areas in the UK.
The store had been flooded a few years previously, when the waters reached about one foot inside the store, but nothing could have prepared him - or his store manager Helen James - for what they found on the grey morning of July 21.
Torrential rains had battered the town and surrounding countryside for most of the previous day and throughout the night, so Helen - who lives in the neighbouring town of Cheltenham - wasn't all that surprised when she was woken by the sound of her phone ringing at 3am.
"It was the security company contacting me, as the store alarms were going off. I got dressed in a hurry and jumped into the car. I knew we were in trouble when I found that all three of the main roads into Tewkesbury were impassable because of the waters."
Helen remembers the morning's drive as a nightmarish scene. "It was like something you'd see in a war film. All the roads which had not yet been flooded were jammed with cars and people desperately trying to flee the waters."
When Helen finally met Guy at the store, the extent of the devastation took her breath away. "The water was so high that it was lapping against the front of the ATM." The entire forecourt and car park were swamped by more than 3ft of filthy water, while behind the heavy metal security shutters the levels inside the store had crept to above 4ft.
"At first we thought that we wouldn't be able to get into the store as we were certain that the water would have destroyed the shutters, but by some miracle they opened," says Guy.
Donning a pair of yellow waders and with only a mobile phone to light his way, Guy pushed his way into his flood-ravaged store to assess the damage.
"It was absolutely horrendous," he recalls. "Everything was floating around - freezers, fridges, all the food. The plastic lottery stand was floating so high that it was bumping against the ceiling; it was just heartbreaking to see."
Everything was destroyed: the store's tills, computer systems, storage rooms, office space and entire electrical infrastructure.
Five days later the flood waters had receded enough for Guy and Helen to re-enter the store and commence the mammoth clean-up operation.
"The whole place was coated in a disgusting muddy silt, but the worst thing about it was the smell," explains Helen.
With the fridges and freezers broken, the shop and stock room were filled to the brim with wet, putrefying food, including meat, eggs and cheese. "The smell was simply atrocious," recalls Guy.
The team could work inside for only 10 minutes at a time before running out, gasping for clean air. "It made you want to be sick. I hope I never have to smell anything like that again," Helen says.
After a week's hard graft, which included stripping the store back to its bare walls, Helen and her staff had managed to clear everything out - filling three industrial-sized skips in the process.
It was then time for the refurbishment. Unlike many other retailers across the UK, Guy - who was in the process of building a new store in the Cotswolds town of Moreton-in-Marsh - was lucky to have a full team of work-hungry builders on stand-by.
"As soon as they finished their work in Moreton-in-Marsh they were able to start on the Tewkesbury store. It was a blessing to have them."
Work on the store commenced immediately - and, amazingly, just eight weeks and £350,000 later the store re-opened for business.
"These were probably the hardest two months of my life," laughs Helen. "Some nights we worked as late as 2am before going home and coming back just a few hours later to start again - we were absolutely exhausted." However, despite the aches and scrapes, Helen maintains that the project was an immensely positive experience.
"We became a real team," she says. "The whole experience has brought us all so much closer together. We have become real friends as well as work colleagues."
In fact, Helen and her team have become so friendly that they all went away on holiday together a few weeks ago. "And to top it all off we now have a fabulous new store to work in," Helen says.
The store was one of the first to receive the fresh new Budgens fascia, and the inside is equally impressive. Dark tiled floors and chunky metal fixtures and fittings give the store a clean, modern feel. It's even got a new food- and drink-to-go offer, where tired drivers can re-fuel with a steaming cup of coffee or tea.
Helen is particularly proud of the new beer, wines and spirits section, which has been given an upmarket feel through polished wood floors and large chillers.
But perhaps the most drastic change is the radical new flood- proofing design.
"We have taken every possible precaution to stop any future floods from causing so much havoc again," says Guy. "Everything that we could raise up we have."
The store's refrigeration systems, electrical infrastructure, plug sockets, computer systems and more, have all been raised to above four feet from the floor.
"We also got rid of all the little nooks and crannies that were there before, and it is now much more open-plan," adds Helen, who also ended up with a bright new office and gleaming kitchen.
"All in all, it's a much nicer place to work and for our customers to shop in now."
Despite the fact that this winter is expected to be drier than average, Helen and Guy aren't taking any chances. Both admit to taking a much closer interest in the weather forecast and also in cloud formations since the day the waters rose.
"Even though we have taken so many precautions, I can't help but get a kind of sinking feeling whenever I feel a drop of rain," confesses Helen.
Parts of Tewkesbury were once again lashed by heavy rainfall just last month, resulting in minor flooding in the town, but thankfully the Budgens forecourt was spared this time around.
And with a flash new store and happy unified team, the only flood that Helen and Guy look set to contend with in the coming months is one of customers.

Tewkesbury update


As Convenience Store went to press, residents and business owners in Tewkesbury were once again battening down the hatches amid fears that further wild weather could prompt flooding in parts of the town.
Heavy rainfall in the last few weeks of January had caused water levels in the already swollen river Severn to rise to dangerous heights, and flood warnings were again in place.
"Some parts of the town, especially around the cathedral, have been flooded again," says Guy, "but fortunately the waters are nowhere near the store.
"We had a rather hairy moment last week when the river looked set to burst its banks. We got a heavy goods vehicle on site ready to move stock in case it flooded, but fortunately it never came to it. Let's hope it stays that way."

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