Community spirit shines through in flood-hit Hambledon

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Venice is the tongue-in-cheek sign as you drive into Hambledon.

And a gondola is probably a more appropriate form of transport than a car as the village’s roads are avenues of fast-flowing water, rising and falling with each band of rain that falls on to the hills.

The flooding in Hambledon is likely to get even worse''''Picture: Malcolm Wells (14276-7643)

The flooding in Hambledon is likely to get even worse''''Picture: Malcolm Wells (14276-7643)

For almost three weeks now, normal every day life has ground to a halt in this pretty village on the South Downs.

The roads have become rivers, the chugging of water pumps echoes round-the-clock through the village, and water tankers are virtually the only traffic in sight.

Geoff Hartridge, 68, who has lived in Hambledon since 1952, is one of the volunteers and was on patrol at 6.30am yesterday.

‘The whole village has pulled together,’ he says.

‘I have seen people say hello to each other who would normally pass with a nod. We are all in this together.

‘On Sunday, I got out of the village and it seemed normal, it was sunny and I saw sports cars with hoods down.

‘Got back to Hambledon and there’s community support officers, barriers, pipes, it’s a different world. It’s getting like a medieval walled village.’

The crisis has brought out the best of human nature, with neighbours offering to do bits of shopping and the village store, Lotts General Stores, accepting parcels for people to pick up.

But, on a serious note, it is clear this is no laughing matter for the people of Hambledon and many people are fed up with the flooding.

Two things are being prayed for: (1) for it to stop raining and (2) for the government to finally invest the £3.5m needed to improve the drainage and sort the problem out once and for all.

The worst part for villagers is when it rains they get two hits. First from the deluge of rain adding to the surface water.

Then several days later, the groundwater rises from the chalk hills and the roads are swamped again.

Imogen Luff, 80, says: ‘It’s been tough for the people who have been flooded.

‘We have Tony Higham, whose head of floods, doing a very good job with his committee. It’s a long haul. I must say, I’m bored of it. I can’t see it ending before the end of February.’

Imogen adds: ‘I was a child in the war, but I’ve seen the wartime spirit come out.

‘We are all helping each other and it’s loud and clear.

‘We are not thinking about ourselves, it’s about who can we help. My neighbour has been wonderful. She goes past Morrison’s every day on the way to work and every day says “Do you want anything?”.’

The hub of the community is Hambledon Village Hall with its own incident room.

Volunteer flood wardens and community support officers are in and out all day, only stopping for 10 minutes or so for a hot mug of tea and a biscuit.

Tony, who is chairman of Hambledon Flood Action Group, has barely stopped since Christmas.

He says: ‘We got a call at 2.30am today from a lady saying my house is filling up with sewage. We sent the Accredited Community Safety Officers and they worked the rest of the night to fix it.’

Martin Clark, 58, who runs Lotts General Stores, explains the drainage has been poor ever since the D-Day Landings of the Second World War.

Troops camped out in the fields as they prepared for the landings. The story goes that there was an underground drainage culvert which was filled in to allow the tanks to go over the roads. One person who lived through two world wars and is not fazed by the floods is 102-year-old Ena Brown.

Part of her cottage is flooded, but she is still going about her everyday life.

Ena laughs: ‘It doesn’t worry me! Why should it?’

The unanswered question is when this waterworld will cease.

Ian Hoult, head of emergency planning at Hampshire County Council, says: ‘How long is it going to keep on raining for? We are just hoping for a sustained period of dry weather – that’s the only thing that take these problems away now.’