Flood waters have receded but small firms are struggling to recover

Months on from widespread flooding across the north of England and Scotland, many business owners are still out of pocket

Suzanne Bearne

Thursday 21 April 2016 

Jayne Shepherd and her son, Michael, had only run their restaurant Winner Winner in King’s Staith, York, for 15 months when the Boxing Day floods hitlast year. When they raced to their restaurant that evening, there was little left to salvage. Sewage-contaminated water had surpassed 4ft, destroying stock, kitchen equipment and furnishings. “We were scrambling to pick up anything we could,” she says. “But we lost pretty much everything.”

The floods had a devastating impact on many small businesses across the north of England and parts of Scotland. Months later, thousands of pounds out of pocket and with questions remaining over insurance payouts, affected businesses are fighting to get back to normal. The government has introduced Flood Re, ascheme to help provide affordable cover for homeowners, but it does not include small companies. And that’s something the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) wants to change.

“We have pushed the government hard to explore options for small businesses which aren’t covered by Flood Re,” says Mike Cherry, national chairman for the FSB. “As a result, the government has set up a high-level, industry-led working group to explore how best to increase small business resilience. We hope to see the government report on progress before the summer.”

But meanwhile, Winner Winner’s story is a familiar one among small businesses affected by last winter’s storms, which caused widespread flooding and damage and shut businesses for months during what should have been a period of Christmas cheer. Instead, small businesses were left with a hangover of cleaning and repairing – and eye-watering bills to pay.

In Calderdale, West Yorkshire, businesses lost £47m as a result of the Boxing Day floods, according to research by Calderdale council, the University of Leeds and social enterprise Upper Calder Valley Renaissance. Many businesses had to let employees go and some are still closed today.

The flooding of Winner Winner was a devastating emotional and financial blow for the Shepherds, with the business only reopening in mid-February. “We lost staff because we couldn’t sustain keeping them on,” says Jayne Shepherd. “We were massively affected financially. We were covered by insurance but it didn’t cover the cost of replacing everything.”

With the insurance only covering fixtures and fittings, the mother and son had to buy a new extraction system worth £5,000 and cover a refit and refurbishment, costing £18,000. The business also suffered loss of income in the range of £100,000 over the period it was closed.

“We do have loss of income cover but that hasn’t been settled yet,” says Shepherd. “It’s been a constant battle to get money from the insurance company.” Winner Winner received £2,500 from the government’s £50m relief fund to help flooded households and businesses, but Shepherd had to use her own money and rely on family to get the business up and running again.

The flooded dining room at Winner Winner restaurant, King’s Staith, York, last year.

Dominic Waterhouse’s clothing store, Waterhouse, in Lancaster was also left devastated when floods hit the region in early December. “All the walls and the flooring were damaged,” he says. “I lost half my stock as well as my fixtures and fittings.” Waterhouse received £2,500 in government relief and insurance payouts of around £25,000. “The local insurance company I was with have been absolutely fantastic,” he says, adding that payment was prompt. However, while he’s received some money for business interruption and loss of earnings from another insurer, he’s still waiting to be paid for the bulk of it.

Not wanting to tempt fate again, Waterhouse decided to move the store to a different location. “We had a year to go on our leases so I just decided to cut our losses.”

The store reopened on 9 April, to much fanfare. “My wife said it was like a Next sale all day,” Waterhouse says. “We never moved from behind the counter. We’ve had great support from people who have missed us.”

Mike Dumbreck, owner of print, design and marketing firm Print Bureau in Hebden Bridge, saw his business destroyed by the Boxing Day floods. “From the printing machine to every piece of paper, it completed wiped everything out,” he says. “Everything I had built up over the past 12 years had been tossed upside down.” Dumbreck has received government relief and was insured, although he had to pay a huge premium of 25% of the claim, costing him “tens of thousands of pounds”.

Print Bureau has reopened in a smaller unit and plans to find additional premises in the same area. “We don’t have all our machines back so until we have the new space, we can’t do everything,” says Dumbreck. “But we’re expanding, we’re not letting the floods beat us.”

The floods impacted those working from home, too. Adrian Ashton, a consultant and trainer, only moved back into his flooded home towards the end of March – three months after water rose through the foundations of the house. His work was interrupted and he has spent money hot-desking.


“I have had to shell out more cash in the short term because there’s been temporary accommodation to sleep in at night and I’ve bought IT kit in order to have a portable office to take around,” he says. “I can’t get to meet clients as easily, I’ve had to pay more in taxis and trains. My business has lost momentum.” Fortunately Ashton received £1,500 from the government pot.

Thousands of small businesses still face an uncertain future, with many left uninsurable or confronted with super high premiums. Like many business owners, Dumbreck is in a difficult position. “My insurance will not cover us at all for flood insurance. We’re very vulnerable, I’ve had to find specialist insurance to insure us on expensive pieces of kit.”

Shepherd, too, faces a similar situation. “Most companies won’t cover us for flood damage and any that will have quoted us £20,000 excess or more flood cover.”

With flood barriers at the door and sandbags down, Shepherd is unsure what else she can do. “The flood barriers are 4ft and the water came above on top of them. Water finds a way into any crack.”

For small businesses, the journey has been emotionally and financially draining – and many are left feeling that the government has forgot them. “It’s all gone quiet now from the government,” says Dumbreck. “I don’t know what they’re doing to prevent or minimise this happening again. Because it will happen again.”