Further to my post 'Snow Relief Centre', I asked for a report of what happened on the longest night of 2009 for our local ecumenical newspaper, 'Caversham Bridge' and I have pleasure in sharing it with you here.
"The longest night
It seems that everyone has a story about the snow that fell on 21 December (the longest night) last year. At Caversham Heights Methodist Church, we too had an exciting time.
Early in the evening, my doorbell rang, and a very public-spirited neighbour asked if I knew that a number of motorists were stranded on the main road in their cars and trucks, and wondered whether we could open the church hall and offer hot drinks? While she went off to tell shivering drivers we were opening up, I phoned several church members who live nearby, and in a short space of time, we were offering warm shelter, hot drinks and most importantly, loos!
Many cars, vans and lorries, including big trucks, were straddling St. Peter’s Hill and Woodcote Road, and soon we had dozens of people, old and young (plus a couple of dogs) thawing out. Amazingly, the word got out very quickly, and a number of local residents (not necessarily connected with our church), appeared at the hall, offering help, food, bedding and accommodation, and so as the evening wore on, we were able to provide soup and sandwiches. Woodcote Way Stores kindly stayed open long enough for us to stock up on some items. (One local resident generously paid for these.) When it became clear that those travellers not within walking distance of home, would have to spend the night in Caversham, some folk were taken to local homes, and the rest slept at the church. Several valiant volunteers stayed up all or most of the night (thank you, Sarah & Steve, and Adam!), and in the morning, we offered a simple breakfast of toast and tea.
A BBC TV reporter appeared early on, and later, we were phoned by Radio Berkshire, the Reading Chronicle, the Reading Post and Rob Wilson MP. A few drivers decided to leave their cars and try the train. A police officer eventually appeared, but when there was still no sign of the road being cleared, some of the truckers knocked on doors, borrowed shovels, and began clearing the road. Meanwhile, some new drivers had arrived, having left the Oxford area that morning, unaware that the road was blocked.
We continued to benefit from the help and support of the Caversham community - for example, some bacon sandwiches turned up in the morning; someone brought in a flask of hot chocolate; and folks walked down to Waitrose to buy supplies and received a donation of tea bags from the store.
By midday on 22nd, all of our temporary visitors had gone, but not before some of the truckers had generously taken up a collection in gratitude.
If you are one of the people who very kindly offered or gave help, food or bedding that night, we are deeply grateful for your generosity. If you need reimbursement for your expenses, please contact me. Any surplus money from the collection will be divided between Shelter and Action for Children. If you lent bedding or a shovel, we still have a few items left in the church hall! Please ring (0118) 9470040 to arrange collection.
Once again, a big thank you to all those generous people who showed community spirit that night. When giving us the collected money, one of the truckers made a little speech. He said, “We thought Caversham people were all posh. We truckers are seen as the scum of the earth, but you’ve treated us with respect and kindness. Thank you.”
(Rev.) Jenny Dowding"