John and Jenny Jackson shut up shop for nine months when floods destroyed their store. Gaelle Walker reports


John and Jenny Jackson awoke with a start, their sleep shattered by an intense pounding on their front door and bellowing from the darkened street below.
The husband and wife team may have both served in the army, but they were no longer in a war zone. They were in their home town of Toll Bar in Doncaster, which in the early hours of June 27, 2007 was drowning under a murky tide of unforgiving flood water.
"Being woken up by the police banging on the door was really frightening," remembers Jenny, who has lived in the house adjoining their
c-store and post office for more than 20 years.
"It was even scarier when we looked out of the window and realised that the officers were in boats. In a matter of hours the street had become a river. It was unbelievable."
John and Jenny had been warned of the risk of flooding when the village was hit by an incessant downpour the previous day, but they weren't overly worried.
The town's proximity to the rivers Don and Ea Beck meant that it had succumbed to flooding before, but waters had never reached above skirting level.
After shutting the store that evening the couple decided to raise some of the goods in the stock room, and move bits of furniture in the house as a minor precaution. "At worst we thought we might get a couple of inches of water in, so we put towels under the door frames and went upstairs to bed. We were prepared to come down in the morning and have a bit of mopping up to do, but no more than that."
How wrong they were. Overnight, a combination of heavy and prolonged rainfall, a backup at the local pumping station and a leaking reservoir caused the rivers to burst their banks, submerging the area under metres of dirty flood water.
By the time the police came to evacuate, water was lapping at the store's letter box. At their peak, waters reached 18ft, engulfing the crossbar on the local rugby pitch's goal posts.
John and Jenny were rescued from their home in a rubber dinghy. "We briefly looked in on the store, but the mess was so bad that we couldn't bear it, so we just locked up and left."
The couple were taken to what soon became known as the 'North shore' of the village, where they planned to stay with friends until the water was pumped out. By the middle of the week, 75% of all pumps in the country had been moved to Toll Bar.
"However, soon after this we heard reports that looting had started, so we decided to return home and live upstairs," says Jenny.
Water levels had reduced enough by this point that a boat was no longer necessary, and donning waders the Jacksons decided to brave the store and stock room. No amount of stoicism could have prepared them for what they were to see and smell.
"It looked like a mad man had been in there," recalls Jenny. "The floors, walls and ceilings were caked in a dark stinking sludge. Fridges and freezers had been smashed and overturned, leaving wet rotting meat and pastries everywhere. One of the most unbelievable sights were the nappies. They had exploded in the water and looked like vast dirty pillows. The smell was foul."
Fortunately, the couple's insurance company took charge of the situation and sent a specialist team to clear up the mess and assess what needed to be done. "We were incredibly lucky to get such a good team of people in to help sort everything out."
Many other people in the town weren't so lucky. With a clean-up of such magnitude to contend with, the supply of trustworthy builders soon ran dry. Many people in the village fell victim to unscrupulous cowboys.
The cleaning process involved stripping the store and house right back to its bare bones. Nothing could be salvaged.
After the cleaning, it was time for the drying. Drying a flood-damaged property is a lengthy and potentially hazardous business. John and Jenny's store and home had to be heated to an internal temperature of 85°C for eight days, before being lowered very slowly to avoid cracking and de-stabilising the structure. The excessive heat removes damp from deep inside the bricks and kills bacteria.
"You could only last inside for a matter of minutes. It was like walking into an oven," says Jenny. It was at this point that the couple took up residence in a caravan in their back garden.
Three months later, the rebuild began. "In many ways, overseeing the rebuild was worse than the shock of the floods," explains Jenny. "There was just so much to do."
In fact, the Jacksons had so little time on their hands that setting up a temporary store couldn't be considered. "People kept on asking 'Aren't you bored having all this time off work?', but with endless problems to solve, a store refit to plan and an entire house to redecorate, it was harder than work. If I didn't love this business so much, I would have gladly called it quits and shut up shop for good."
Instead, they ploughed on and nine months after the floods hit the store reopened with a flash new look and a Lifestyle Express fascia.
"We wouldn't have achieved what we did without the wonderful support of Blakemore, our suppliers, the Post Office and the insurance company," Jenny says.
The new store looks radically different from before. Stockroom space has been reduced by almost half, while selling space has been increased, allowing the Jacksons to install a new two-and-a-half metre jumbo freezer and two new chiller displays.
"Before the refit we could display just three bottles of wine and had to keep the rest in the back. Now we can display up to 40 bottles and keep them all cold. It's fantastic."
The large window at the front of the store has been blocked out with eye-catching Lifestyle Express product graphics, giving the couple extra space inside for shelving.
They have also installed a suspended ceiling and spotlights, giving the store a much brighter look.
"We've got a new epos system, too, which is very exciting, but I'm still trying to get my head around it," laughs Jenny.
CCTV cameras have been introduced along with additional lighting outside the store. "The new lights brighten up the street and tell passers-by that we are open, which is important now that we've blocked out the window," adds Jenny.
In her home, Jenny now has a beautiful new kitchen, lounge and dining room area.
"Looking back, I suppose this cloud does have a silver lining," says Jenny. "We now have a wonderful new store and the house is a real pleasure."
And in a bizarre twist of fate, the floods helped avert a potential disaster. "When we were ripping out the store we discovered that the upstairs bath had been leaking over the years. The water had caused serious damage to the bathroom floor which is directly above the Post Office. If we hadn't been flooded we would never have found out about the weak floor and one day the bath would have fallen through the ceiling and straight into the post office."

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