Almost record-breaking amounts of rain fell over South Yorkshire on 25 June, 2007, causing reservoirs to overflow. Most Sheffield residents still dread the distressing memories of that day. Water penetrated homes and the submerged roads led to millions of pounds worth of damage caused to the Steel City. The gigantic shopping centre, Meadowhall, also felt some of the chaos that the floods brought upon Sheffield.
Thousands of homes were affected, causing over £30 million of damage. While most of the substantial figure was dedicated to fixing damaged roads, a lot of retailers were also hit.
Following the heavy rainfall, River Don flooded several parts of Sheffield, including Meadowhall. You would expect a lot of panic at such a time, but Dawn Osborne, Head of Operations at Meadowhall, was impressed with the kind of camaraderie that the employees put on display in the harsh times that followed.
“It was an absolutely wonderful effort from the staff not only on the day itself but the weeks and months that followed. Our issue wasn’t getting people to come in in the first few days it was sending them home, they wanted to stay to get things sorted out. We have never been more proud of everyone,” she said.
Mrs Osborne still has a vivid memory of the shocking events that took place on that particular day and even more so of the aftermath. Two people in Sheffield died and it took the city a while to rebound. The shopping centre itself suffered substantial damage as well.
“There was extensive damage to partition walls, generators, electrical and mechanical equipment as well as stock in stores,” she said.
While the extensive damage to the building and the equipment was a lot to deal with, being out of business for an extended period of time is simply not an option for a shopping centre of Meadowhall’s magnitude. Over 25 million shoppers visit the centre every year, and it does not take a mathematician to figure out that a high amount of revenue can be lost in just one day.
Meadowhall managed to open up just six days later, which allowed all the upper level stores to resume trading. In the first 24 hours, repairs of emergency exits and electricity lines were prioritised, so that the centre could be opened. All the 96 lower level stores were cleared, so that the lower level could eventually open as well. The entire centre had to be dried out and cleaned.
“It was a gargantuan effort by centre staff, retailers, contractors and suppliers. A massive team effort, real Dunkirk spirit,“ Mrs Osborne said.
While the centre was able to fully relaunch in October 2007, the aftermath of the flooding was felt for several more years. According to Mrs Osborne, it took another two years to complete all recovery projects, but eventually the centre got back on its feet.
You would think that a serious event like this would expose flaws in the precautionary system. However, Meadowhall did have flood defences in place even before the incident happened. While the centre’s defences have since then been enhanced, it is hard to say if they could prevent another major flooding from causing damage to Meadowhall.
There is very little that can be done in the case of a natural disaster such as the one in 2007. Mother Nature often has a mind of her own, and all the precautionary measures — which have inevitably been taken all over the United Kingdom since the Sheffield floods — could be rendered useless in the blink of an eye.