How one Catholic school is struggling with the Cumbria flood

Newman Catholic school in Carlisle: Cumbria has suffered awful floods

It has been a difficult week. When the news filtered through on Saturday evening that Carlisle’s flood defences were in danger of breach, many people feared the worst. The city had been here before, after all – in 2005, Carlisle hit national headlines after it was submerged by flood waters which caused devastation across the city.

Many people thought this was unlikely to happen again. We thought the flood defences would be sufficient. We were wrong. The water levels reached higher than in 2005. As a school, those who were present ten years ago woke up on Sunday morning fearing the worst. By Monday, it was clear – our school, Newman Catholic School in Carlisle, had been badly flooded, with most of the ground level rooms and facilities sitting underwater.

It is difficult to describe the feelings one goes through – a mixture of relief that everyone in our community was safe, and despair at the loss and suffering of those around us. Everything we had worked so hard to (re-)build was currently lying in a pool rancid, brown water.

Whilst it became clear that nothing could be accomplished on the school site until the waters receded, we were aware that we needed to come together as a school. With Gaudete Sunday approaching, we decided our first job was to try and put Christmas back on the agenda for our kids, to show that we as a school are still here and serving the local community, even whilst our school building was not. We decided to go ahead and host our Christmas carol concert, with the help of St. Margaret Mary’s, one of our local primary schools. It was a great success, and we were delighted with how many students were able to attend and how well the event was supported by the local community.

To turn to more material concerns, the school must begin almost from scratch. Indeed, speaking for the RE department, we are now a resource-less department. In our part of the school flood waters reached approximately seven foot deep, meaning most items stored in classrooms have been irreparably damaged. And where the waters did not reach the stench and general filth has seen off anything else. As such, everything we own has been destroyed – from Bibles and textbooks and learning resources, to more general items such as Nativity sets, rosary beads, statuary, framed pictures, crucifixes and candles.

Equally, our chapel, dedicated last year by Bishop Michael Campbell and where we are fortunate enough to have the Blessed Sacrament permanently reserved, has been destroyed – everything from flooring and lighting, to vestments and altar linens, to sanctuary lamps and Mass handouts, to artwork and our much cherished reed organ.

Of course, our thoughts now turn to how we can rebuild Catholic education in Carlisle, and ensure our current students suffer as little disruption as possible. But in addition to addressing pressing material concerns, we are also aware that we are a Catholic community. Through what lies ahead we must seek to sustain and indeed build on our mission – in this the Jubilee Year of Mercy, we are perhaps more aware than ever of our obligation to serve Christ in serving others. Our experience has been, in many ways, tragic – but it compels us to redouble our efforts and orient ourselves toward service, with Christ the foundation stone upon which the bricks and mortar, which we will be putting back together over the next few months, is truly built.

If you would like to make a donation to Newman Catholic school, to help the RE department resource itself with essential items for teaching and worship, you can contact the author at [email protected]