Community rallies to stop elderly Park Street resident's house from flooding

Volunteers and fir fighters clearing flood water in Park Street, St Albans

Samuel Leach (third from left) teamed up with local volunteers including Gavin (second from right) to stop Eileen's cottage from flooding - Credit: Samuel Leach

As floodwater slowly subsides around the district, community spirit is here to stay.

On January 30, Watford-based Samuel Leach was walking around the lakes in the southern part of St Albans district, when he came across a cottage that was threatened by fast-rising flooding.

Samuel, who is a trader and Instagram personality with 360,000 followers, made a plea to his fans for manpower and sandbags to help protect the Park Street home.

Knocking on the cottage door to ensure everything was okay, Samuel met Eileen, a woman in her 80s. Exclaiming that the water hadn't risen this high since the 1990s, she feared there was nothing she could do to stop the water reaching her front door.

Eileen told Samuel that her son had recently passed away after contracting COVID in hospital, so she now had no one to help bail out the water.

Realising this was a job for more than one person, Samuel took to his Instagram stories, asking local tradesmen and volunteers to do what they could to help Eileen.

"I'll be honest, I was a bit worried that no one would reply to start with," Samuel told the Herts Ad. "If I was giving something away, hundreds of people would be like 'Me! Me! Me!', but when you're asking people to give up your Saturday, put on some wellies and stand outside in the rain to put your hands into cold water to put sandbags down, you wouldn't expect much of a reply. 

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"People were saying they'd be there in five minutes. 'How can you be here in five minutes?' And they were just turning up in trainers and jeans, and saying they didn't have time to turn back and get their wellies. They were getting fully into knee-deep water in jeans and trainers to help out. This is amazing."

One of those jeans and trainers-clad volunteers was Gavin McKay from Tring, whose work for Chevron Traffic Management meant he had access to enough sandbags to save Eileen's home.

Park Street floods

Samuel Leach, alongside volunteers like Gavin and the fire service, helped protect Eileen's Park Street Home from flood water - Credit: Gavin McKay

Two trips to Tring totalling over two hours, and 200 sandbags later - and thanks to a loaned water pump and the assistance of St Albans' fire brigade - the gaggle of volunteers managed to build a defence around the semi-detached cottage, protecting it from the once waist-high water after five hours of hard graft.

Making light of the situation and joking "who needs the gym?" when you're lifting 20kg sodden bags of sand, Samuel praised everyone that came to Eileen's aid, stating that "many hands made light work".

"Gavin's honestly an absolute hero. He's just a lovely, lovely guy and we wouldn't have been able to do it without him."

Gavin said: "It was just a small drop in the ocean really. 

"Sam is the hero really. Most people walk past these things nowadays, and he took the time out of his day. He organised for this lady to be saved from the flood, I just happened [to be there]."

He added: "Sam was amazing that day. No word of a lie, he had his wellies on, rain mac and all that, he was in the thick of it, moving sandbags about.

"He stopped and spent the time organising for her house to be saved. Speaking to Eileen on the day, I was so touched by her."

The volunteers also took time to make sure Eileen was well looked after even once the teams left, with the fire brigade checking her smoke alarms and also registering her to a charity that ensured she received one hot meal a day.

Samuel's partner Nicola McDonald got Park Street Residents' Association on board to provide Eileen with fresh food every week, and handymen are now at her disposal to help with odd jobs around the house.

Samuel will clear the sandbags with the help of the local fire service when the coast is clear, and will store as many of them as he can in his back garden so they're at the community's disposal the next time flood water rises.

He hopes that local trades or people with storage that can offer a "community area" so people know there are sandbags at their disposal if they're ever in need.