Page last updated at 11:03 GMT, Thursday, 26 June 2008 12:03 UK

Village floods not child's play

By Mario Cacciottolo
BBC News

Wendy Layton
Wendy Layton has been living in a caravan with her niece and two sons

Toll Bar, near Doncaster, was one of the areas devastated by flooding in summer 2007. One year on, how has the South Yorkshire village given its children a sense of normality while the community recovers from the waters' disruption?

"The beds are so narrow that you fall out if you roll over in the night," says Callum, 10, who has been living in a caravan in Toll Bar, while waiting for his house to be repaired.

His family are one of the last in the area to be re-homed, and due to move back within days.

He folds his arms and leans against his temporary home, one of 50 caravans in which families from the village have had to live in the wake of the destructive floods.

Clearly unimpressed with the sleeping arrangements, he at least extols the virtues of living in a community flung together by its extreme adversity.

"Living on a caravan park has brought people closer, you meet new people," he added. "You've got to talk to your neighbours more."

Bathroom longing

So what is the best thing about moving back into a house? Quick as a flash comes the reply.

"Having a bath. I used to have them before and I can't have one now because the bathrooms are tiny."

Angela Mahoney [top right] with her daughter Sophie and grandsons Connor and Ryan
Angela Mahoney and her family are looking forward to living in a house

This longing for a soak is, apparently, a common theme among the village's children.

Callum lives with his brother Jordan, 15, his 33-year-old mother Wendy Layton, and her niece Ann-Marie Wilsher, 18.

Ms Layton said: "We lived for months in a house that had been flooded, because there weren't any caravans free. That wasn't very nice, we didn't have floors, doors and there wasn't any heating.

"We finally got in a caravan three months ago. They're all right for a holiday but not to live in.

"We're all on top of each other all the time. Callum thought it was exciting at first, and he has friends who are also on the site, but Jordan likes his own space.

"I'm looking forward to getting back into a house. And if the floods happen again, I'll move."

Children 'confused'

Mother-of-four Lyndsey Hamblett and her family spent 10 months living in a caravan before moving home.

On one occasion when it rained hard, her two sons measured the depth of the water in the garden with their school rulers.

"They remembered how quickly the water had risen in the floods and were saying, 'We've only got two hours to get out of the house'.

"My youngest is only just three years old. When we moved back into the house she kept saying she wanted to go home to the caravan. She's very confused because she can't really remember living here."

When the children came back they were a bit subdued, but they're recovering well. They still get a bit twitchy when it rains heavily
Jill Northwood, headteacher
Toll Bar Primary School

Down the road is Toll Bar Primary School, with 150 pupils. After 500,000 worth of flood damage, the school has decamped into a series of temporary structures known as modular buildings, put up on what was the school playing field.

Head teacher Jill Northwood said the school wanted to ensure some sort of stability for the children in their heavily disrupted lives.

"We wanted to make sure that they didn't go from living in a caravan into something that looked like another one here. So it was important to make the school look like one inside."

The school has not only been serving the educational needs of the children, but also their emotional ones.

Caravan bathroom
The caravans provide modern facilities but in a tight space

"We spent a lot of time talking about what happened," Mrs Northwood said.

"Some of the staff have done counselling and we have 'circle time' with the children. They talk to each other, taking it in turns, about what they're thinking and feeling.

"When the children came back they were a bit subdued, but they're recovering well. They still get a bit twitchy when it rains heavily.

"Their fears will fade, but I don't think they will go away."

The school has organised a number of after-school clubs to prevent children "from going straight back into a caravan" when lessons end.

Angela Mahoney, 45, arrives at the school to pick up her twin grandsons Connor and Ryan, seven, and 13-year-old daughter, Sophie.

"We've lived in a caravan for almost a year," she says. "It's been hard but we cope because we have to. I've just got the keys to my house back, there's that much room in it I'm likely to get lost."

A dinner lady at Toll Bar Primary School, she says the best time for the family was when they were first put up in a nearby leisure centre for four weeks.

Deputy head Sue Clarke [left] and head teacher Jill Northwood
Deputy head Sue Clarke and head Jill Northwood run Toll Bar's school

"That was just me and Sophie and it was better than a caravan. They looked after us well, gave us free food and there was about 100 of us all together, we got on really well."

What are the children looking forward to about moving back into a house? For all three it is the size.

Living in a caravan is boring, says Connor: "The rooms aren't big enough, you can't play because it's too small."

While Sophie will be expecting visitors: "Whenever one of my group of friends moved back into a house, we all went round there."

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