Claire Woodier finds out how last week’s events affected local people and their businesses

Owners of small businesses everywhere have to meet challenges, but boy, did Whaley Bridge have to deal with a huge one recently when the huge dam holding back Toddbrook reservoir started to show cracks. It threatened to burst after a spell of relentless rain, and if it had, it would have caused utter devastation to the houses, services and businesses in Whaley Bridge and surrounding villages. 

The widening cracks in the dam wall made national headlines and even prompted a visit from Boris Johnson and a Chinook helicopter loaded up with tons of sand bags to sure up the barrier. But what was it like for the 1500 people who actually live and work in the area?

They’re now organising a street party with other businesses to say thank you to the emergency services

Byron Rowbottom, third generation butcher from Edwin Wild & Son, in Whaley Bridge, describes how he got a visit from police last Thursday, asking him to leave everything and evacuate.

"We’re a meat business, we can’t just go," he replied. He was told he would be arrested and led to safety if he didn’t do just that. When he still needed convincing, the copper leveled with him: "Forget this uniform now, I’ve got a wife and three kids. I don’t want to be down here in case that thing goes. So can we please leave?"

2019 08 12 Byron Rowbottom From Edwin Wild Whaley Bridge
Byron Rowbottom from Edwin Wild & Son butchers

It was his ‘brutal honesty’ Byron says, that got him to abandon his ‘heart and soul' business. He’s since been working mad hours to get everything back on track; 5am-10pm Wednesday and 4am-8pm Thursday. "That’s three nights I don’t see my daughter, or put her to bed. And if you saw how much stuff had been thrown away you would be in tears."

But like so many of the business owners here, he is finding the positives: "If it does one thing, it makes the community realise what a village would be like without any shops in the middle of it. Something that could’ve been horrific has actually turned into something that’s bought loads of people in and has shown that actually a community is still here."

2019 08 12 Bakery Whaley Bridge
Bridge Bakehouse team (L-R) Annabel Holland, Sophie Buxton, Sophia Cunningham, Courtney Dignan, Andrea Dignan, Louise Coley
2019 08 12 Bridge Bakehouse Sausage Roll
Bridge Bakehouse sausage roll

One policeman reckoned he’d put a stone on in a week, because ‘everyone has been so nice, they’ve not stopped feeding us.’ That could be the fault of the girls at Bridge Bakehouse spoiling them rotten. "We’ve had to work extra hours because obviously we had to chuck everything out," said Courtney Dignan, one of two sisters who own the bakery and coffee shop. 

Via police escort they were able to get back to the bakery and begin catching up on restocking - no mean feat when you’re open seven days a week and everything is made from scratch. The locals are supporting them: "its amazing," she says, "we’re so happy." They’re now organising a street party with other businesses to say thank you to the emergency services. "We want to give back," says a grateful Courtney. 

She told us to go and see Raj from Wells Pharmacy because "he’s so lovely, he deserves a mention." Raj has become a bona fide local superhero. "He wouldn’t let his patients down," says his co-worker Helen proudly - although Raj is trying to play it down. "Because everybody knows us, they’d ring us at night and tell us who needs what. So I’d just ring the police, who would come in with me to get the stock out, and then everyone could go and pick it up from down the road," says Raj, who’s been working there fifteen years, "emergency services were unbelievably organised."

2019 08 12 Whaley Bridge Pharmacy
Raj and the staff from Wells Pharmacy, Whaley Bridge

Resident Liz McCann has come in to see Malcolm Swets at Goyt Wines to buy some booze. "We need to drink more don’t we?" she jokes. She’s making goody bags as presents for the neighbours who helped her evacuated mother. Reassuringly, Malcolm knows what he’s talking about when it comes to his selection of mid-range wines and local beers, so will help anyone that needs advice and will point you towards their special offers. 

They’ve collaborated with local chippy, The Fryery, for ‘fizz and chips’ on Friday nights when Malcolm and his team will plate your fish and chips up and you can accompany it with a bottle of something from his shelves for a small corkage fee. It’s just one example of the local business community working together. 

2019 08 12 Goyt Wines Whaley Bridge
Customer Liz McCann at Goyt Wines

Evacuated residents Dean Willcox and Joanne Lawrence are having a celebratory drink at the bar of the Goyt Inn with landlord Tony. Why do they come to Tony and Jen’s pub? "The beer is perfect," they say. He always looks after his beer. "Can’t fault him," they gush as Tony pretends to reach for a bribe.

For Monday darts night, the customers bring in goodies for each other, like local eggs and biccies from Joanne’s work. "Like a proper community, everyone helps each other," says Joanne. Just be warned though, they do not take cards at the Goyt Inn. A vein starts popping in Tony’s head if you try and pay with plastic. Dean pushes the point home; "don’t even mention cards," he laughs. "If you do, you’re out." 

2019 08 12 Goyt Inn Customers
Joanne Lawrence and Dean Willcox propping up the bar at The Goyt Inn, Whaley Bridge

Buddy the dog is there to greet you with his ball when you come in to Alex Barwell’s Peak Power Gym in Gisbourne Works. Alex says his clients have been understanding, and he’s tried to accommodate those who are trying to maintain a level of fitness by having PT sessions outside. 

We have a go at one of his spin classes, only a fiver per any of individual class and £25 per month for unlimited classes and gym access. "Work HARD," he shouts at us as we’re pedalling away. A fitting mantra for the people behind those businesses that are still smiling in Whaley Bridge. 

Trains from Manchester Piccadilly to Whaley Bridge take 35 mins direct and cost from £8.60 return 

Key dates

Saturday 31 August - 2019 Party in the Park - Whaley Bridge Memorial Park. Bands, free attractions for children, cakes, Prosecco, burgers. FREE entry.

Saturday 7 September 9am-3pm - September FAB Market - Whaley Bridge Canal Basin. High quality stalls, pies cheese, wine and local beers, handcrafted clothes and jewellery.

Saturday 7 September 1pm - Charity Day for Tommy’s and the Whaley Bridge Dam’s Emergency Services at The White Hart - Market Street. Bands, DJ, Raffle, fair rides, fire engine.