St Asaph care home flood heroes are in line for a top national honour

Two staff  members who bravely waded through icy waist-deep water to ensure elderly residents were safe when flash flooding hit a care home in St Asaph, North Wales, are in line for a major national award.

The Old Deanery was one of 400 properties affected when torrential rain caused the River Elwy in St Asaph to burst its banks early on November 27 last year.  

But thanks to the efforts of home manager Lisa Bowen and senior care assistant Jane Heath-Coleman all 21 residents, ranging in age from their seventies to 98, stayed safe and dry.

Their selfless actions have landed the big-hearted duo a place in the final of  the 2013 Wales Care Awards.

This is the 11th anniversary of the awards and the glittering presentation ceremony will be held at City Hall in Cardiff on Friday, October 18.

The awards are in association with Care  Forum Wales, a not-for-profit organisation set up in 1993 to give independent care providers a single professional voice with which to speak on one of the most important issues of our time – how to provide better quality care for those who need it most.

Lisa and Jane have both been shortlisted in the Outstanding Service category, sponsored by Hallmark.

Lisa, 32, is the daughter of Old Deanery owners, Barry and Linda Mahon, who established the home in 1983. She has worked there since she left school and became manager six years ago.

Reliving the flooding drama, she said: “My parents and I all live in nearby Rhyl and there was no problem with flooding over there, so the first I knew that things were getting really serious over in St Asaph was when my sister, who lives in the town, rang me about 6am to say the river had come over and that she had been evacuated by the emergency services.

“The river is not far away from the Old Deanery, so my first thought was for the safety of our residents.

“I rang the home and spoke to the night staff but they weren’t really sure what was happening outside.

“I then called my mum and dad and they have a four-wheel-drive Range Rover, so we all piled in and headed immediately for St Asaph.

“The main roads were closed, so we went round another way to get there.

“When we eventually got to the bottom of the road the home is on things looked pretty bad.

“The water was already very deep but I just knew I had to reach the home, so I left my mum and dad with the car while I waded in.

“It was really cold and the water was up to my waist but the adrenalin must have kicked in and I just kept going.

“Further along the road a firefighter shouted at me to stop because of the danger. But I told him who I was and that I was trying to reach the Old Deanery. He then led me the rest of the way there.”

As Lisa was battling towards the home her senior colleague, 35-year-old Jane Heath Coleman, was making her own precarious way to the Old Deanery from her home in Rhyl.

Because the road were closed she had to wade through deeply flooded gardens and eventually borrowed two sets of ladders from home-owners to get over the perimeter wall and into the home.

Lisa said: “Jane got there 10 minutes before me and we saw the water was coming in through every nook and cranny. It wasn’t too deep but it was very worrying.

“I phoned the county council who sent some sandbags and we put them everywhere we could see the water appearing, which stopped it.

“By then other staff members, some of whom were not even on duty, started to come in, and a couple of them were wearing fishing waders. 

“We got all the residents into the lounge, reassured them everything was fine, made sure they were warm and gave them their breakfast. There was no panic at all.

“By about 8.30am the firemen, who were brilliant, had pumped out all the water and outside it looked like nothing had happened.         

“A few of the residents had to temporarily move out of their rooms because some water had got in, and we also had problems with the central heating boiler and the electrics of the lift but everything was soon fixed and we quickly got back to normal.

“I’ve never seen anything like the flooding before in my life but all the staff were incredible and just pulled together – it was the real Dunkirk spirit – and we are happy that not one drop of flood water reached our residents.”

Lisa added: “I was overwhelmed, first when I heard we’d been nominated for the Wales Care Awards then when we were both shortlisted.

“For my part, I was just doing what I knew I had to do for the safety of our residents. It didn’t dawn on me I’d done anything special to the nomination came through.

“I’m very proud for myself and the whole team at the Old Deanery and I’m looking forward to going down to the awards presentation evening at the City Hall in Cardiff with my husband Nick.

“Our two children, Harrison, nine, and Harvey, four, will be looked after by their grandparents while we are down there.”

Jane has worked at the Old Deanery for 14 years. She has one daughter, two-year-old Kaitlin, and is expecting her second child next February.

Jane said: “I didn’t think about what I was doing at the time. I just knew I had to get to the home to see the residents were alright because I wasn’t sure who else from the staff would manage to get there because the flooding was so bad.

“I was very surprised to be nominated and then to be shortlisted for the award but it’s nice to get some recognition and I’m very proud.

“I didn’t feel like I was doing anything special that morning. I just knew I had to get into work to see the residents were alright.

She added: “I’m really excited about going down to Cardiff for the awards evening. And as I’m pregnant at the moment I reckon it’ll be the last chance I have for a while to have a night out.”    

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