Though the thoughts of Storm Dennis and the images of terrible floods have subsided for many people as Coronavirus takes over the headlines, there are still hundreds of residents in Rhondda Cynon Taf striving every day to get their lives back on track.
Some have lost everything and it’s been the little, everyday generosities that have injected human kindness and empathy into a devastating situation.
Tucked away on your typical valleys ‘Enterprise Park’ – an estate filled with units of all shapes, sizes and businesses – is a rabbit warren of former offices filled with volunteers, drivers and council staff buzzing around emptying and filling care parcels, stacking products and loading and unloading.
The Tonypandy base is where hundreds of food boxes are being filled and delivered to the hundreds of residents who need them.
It’s smack-dab, almost, inbetween two areas in RCT that were devastated by flooding, Pentre and Treorchy and Trehafod and Pontypridd.
To date more than 800 boxes of food have been filled, packed up and sent out to residents around the borough who need it. The vans the food are being delivered in are rented as the council’s garage was flooded itself.
Enforcement Officer Gavin Key is usually found monitoring dog fouling around RCT but he and his workmate, Gareth Hancock have been out pounding the pavements since Storm Dennis thrashed the area, helping clear houses and now dropping off much needed essentials.
Gavin, who is from Tonyrefail, talked passionately about seeing the community devastated yet galvanised in defiance of the floods.
“The first two weeks we were out behind the ash cart helping people clear out their houses,” said the 42-year-old.
“We were in Pentre, Pleasant and Lewis Streets, Trehafod in Fountain Street, and clearing out the properties and trying to help them get back to normality.
“It was devastating, heartbreaking to be honest, seeing all the stuff being thrown out. Photos of their kids, to the things kids had made for their parents, to the white goods.”
But he added seeing the locals pull together has been nothing but what he expected from this valleys community.
“I’m surprised how upbeat everyone is,” he added. “The community spirit too. It’s not nice but I think people are out helping, making the best of a bad situation and it’s amazing to see, even when you see some of the stuff we’re putting into the ash carts.
“We are here just to help now.”
And helping they are. Gavin and Gareth delivered to Trehafod Road resident, Kathryn Wilson, who was just going to view a temporary property as she has to move out of her home for six months while repairs are being carried out.
Kathryn, who only moved to the area last year said she first met some of her neighbours when they were on her living room floor helping rip up the boards.
She says she didn’t expect any help so the food deliveries have been a God send.
“I’ve had a couple of calls asking ‘did I need anything?’” said the 50-year-old. “My fridge freezer was in the back of the skip, everything was contaminated, then all the different people turn up to do with the insurance company and I can’t go out.
“So it made it a lot easier thinking that I had something for tea that night. I didn’t expect or assume anyone’s help – I thought I was going to be on my own.”
Back at the distribution centre there’s plenty of action and piles and piles of tins, boxes of cereal and a mega-hoard of mince pies, which came in from a local community centre. Even in the middle of March a mince pie would be a treat, right?
Two new volunteers, Mary and Richard Hearne are busy sorting items and stacking shelves. They’re from Treorchy, a stone’s throw from where the lower block of Dumfries Street was flooded.
“I just thought ‘those poor people,'” said Richard. “We’re Christians and the church, Ararat in Whitchurch, asked if we could help.”
Mary added: “You don’t know what to do, you are just overwhelmed by what’s happening.”
But Richard and Mary weren’t overwhelmed for long – they decided to come down to Pandy and help.
“We felt we needed to do something,” said Richard. “People forget.. A fortnight has passed and it’s all over now…but it’s not.
“There are children not in school and displaced – there’s a long term effect.”
The pair have been impressed by the tight ship run at the distribution centre.
Richard said: “It’’s amazing, when we had our instructions it was ‘wow’. Pete has been here quite a few days and he knows what to do – so that’s great.”
That’s Pete Webb, from Aberdare , who started volunteering just after Storm Dennis hit the borough, asking for donations of food from shoppers in his local Tesco.
Pete couldn’t get over the response.
“The donations just started flooding in and I came here on the Monday, Monday turned into Tuesday and Wedneday. And I’ve been back quite a few times,” said the dedicated volunteer.
“The rooms were choc-a-block here the response was unbelievable. People couldn’t do enough to help. People have mucked in all over and council staff too, the past couple of days we had guys from EE down.
“The response has been absolutely amazing.”
Echoing all the sentiments of Pete, Gavin and the rest who rightly wax lyrical about the community response to the floods, is Wendy Edwards – Communities Service Director for RCT Council.
“It’s been a learning curve,” she revealed. “This was all triggered off by the leader’s (Andrew Morgan) visit to the properties. He went to one elderly lady and her whole kitchen had been destroyed and she was relying on her neighbours to give her some food.
“And that’s when he thought, right we’ll make an appeal for food donations and people have been immensely generous.”
Wendy said that on top of local supermarkets donating the suppliers to the council have turned up for the people of Rhondda Cynon Taf, too, with fresh food suppliers providing financial donations in lieu of perishables.
She also added that plans for the coming months included storing furniture donated for people not ready to move back home.
“Out of a really awful situation you see everybody, local people businesses coming together to help,” Wendy said. “We had over 100 volunteers helping here, we had EE, HMRC, TFW we’ve got the Health & Safety Executive here and staff at the council.
“And you see things being delivered in and it restores your faith in human kindness.”