How one community pulled together

When personal tragedy strikes, and it can at any time, you need people to help you. In the early hours of the 12th of June tragedy struck Zelda and Brian Lambert.

Zelda woke around 5.30am to the sound of popping; it very soon became clear that the popping was the slates on the barn as fire took hold. The fire started in a long barn next door and had spread into the roof of their cottage.

Zelda woke Brian, who was fast asleep. They dressed quickly and fled the building with only the clothes they had time to put on.

Six fire crews battled the fire but the top floor of the home they’d lived in for the past 42 years had been destroyed and the water had damaged the ground floor of their three bedroomed cottage.

After the fire was damped down one of the local firemen who knew the couple asked if there was anything in the cottage they would like, if salvageable. The fireman went back in and found quite a lot of personal items, photographs, some art work, and a box of papers.

Paul, who was at the scene, posted what had happened on the Chagford Hub Facebook page.

What happened in the following few hours is testament to how one community came together to help. Within an hour friends had whisked them away from the site of the fire and had the couple sitting down in the Birdcage café in Chagford town square for breakfast.

By now most of the town knew what had happened and by 10.30 Zelda and Brian had the keys of a cottage in the town to stay, clothes were given or offered, bed linen, shoes, even underwear, food and money.

“The offer of help of virtually every kind that came within the first 24 hours was overwhelming,” said Zelda. Hundreds of messages were posted on the Chagford Hub Facebook page as the town pulled together as one community to help two people in need.

Brian and Zelda explained: “From the moment we came down to the village, Rosina and Penny came and rescued us, we were just standing around wondering what to do. We lost all our clothes, everything from the bedrooms.

‘We were offered everything within 24 hours – clothes, underwear, bedding, offers of money, we have been fed all over the place. Rosina turned up with a cottage pie and a bottle of wine, Brian Froud turned up with a television. We were offered everything from a house to shoes, it was unbelievable. We even have our pot plants being looked after by a lady called Kay.

‘Lucy Shields played a very big part, she took control of everybody who was ringing through or contacting the Chagford Hub and she made a list of all the people who offered help; nearly 300 people, it was amazing as we don’t do social media, but it made such a difference to us.

‘Richard and Tina Thomas have been amazing lending this cottage to us, which we have now been able to rent short term, thankfully we were insured.

‘Interestingly we still have to pay council tax to West Devon Borough Council until we can get the property de-banded which could take ten weeks. At the moment they have reduced our council tax by half; we are getting that reduction because we can’t live there.

This is a small community that cares, we even went to the Globe for a meal one night only to be told the meal had been paid for, and the running club paid for a meal in the café in the square. For the first couple of weeks everything happens, you are running on adrenaline, it is only after that you have time to think about what did happen. We are grateful for all the help offered and given.”

Stuart Clarke

Author: Stuart Clarke

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