Stranded motorists grateful for overnight help
Stricken drivers and passengers who were stranded by snow have spoken of their gratitude, after Northumberland sports centres opened through the night to offer beds and respite.
Last night, Active Northumberland let motorists who were stuck on the A1 stay at Alnwick's Willowburn Sports and Leisure Centre and The Swan Centre, in Berwick. Almost 200 people took advantage of the offer. Active Northumberland was supported by Northumberland County Council, Northumbria Police and Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service.
In Alnwick, there was a steady stream of people arriving at the centre from early evening right through the night as police diverted motorists off the A1 at Denwick. There were French, Polish and Irish nationalities among those caught up in the snow storm. They were given air beds to sleep on in the fitness studio and had a warm drink.
One of the people to stay overnight at Willowburn was Barry Jackson. He was trying to get home to Dunblane, but was forced to sleep in Alnwick because the A1 was blocked north of the town.
Having driven up from East Midlands Airport in a 4x4, after flying from Northern Ireland, he said: "What a day it has been. The journey has been rubbish all the way up, but the roads north of Newcastle were particularly bad.
"I am very grateful that Willowburn is open through the night, because otherwise I would have had to spend the night in my vehicle."
Another person to stop off at Willowburn last night was French tourist Alexis Rousseau-JouRennet. It was the first time that he had driven in England, only to encounter the severe weather conditions along the coastal road, as he attempted to make his way up to Edinburgh.
"I was a little scared driving in it," he said. "It was extraordinary weather. But it is wonderful that I can sleep and have some rest at Willowburn before the A1 is cleared."
Steven Temple, Active Northumberland Centre Manager at Willowburn, as well as Amy Hately, from Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service, held the fort through the night.
Steven said: "We had some very cold people arrive through the doors last night - some had been sitting in their cars for seven hours. We turned the heating up full blast and were able to provide blankets, air beds, sleeping bags that had been provided by Northumberland County Council to keep them warm and make them feel welcome.”
In Berwick, 150 motorists spent the night in The Swan Centre with staff experiencing a steady influx from 10pm. Food was brought in at 11pm from Asda , Farm Foods and Morrisons by a local plumber Colin Easton who had a 4x4 vehicle and by the local coastguards. This morning, McDonald's and Asda provided breakfast.
Among those to stay overnight were a coach-load of National Holidays passengers. Travelling south to Hartlepool, they had been stuck on the A1 north of Berwick for six hours before taking refuge at The Swan Centre at 10pm. They finally left this afternoon .
As she was boarding the coach to leave, one passenger said: "The people here have been beautiful The amount of donations we have had is unbelievable - food, sleeping bags, cushions and blankets. Being stuck on the A1 was a nightmare, but we were very lucky that we were able to come and stay at The Swan Centre and the people have proper looked after us."
Centre duty manager Michelle Gray said: “The response from the local community has been tremendous. We’ve had numerous calls from local people offering rooms for the night and local businesses, including a local take-away offering food, help and support.
“A paramedic from Chirnside who was on a journey south, and unable to make it called in to offer his support. He proved absolutely invaluable in helping to sort out the medication of around ten people who did not have any extra supplies with them.”
Officers from Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service also helped a dozen truck drivers who had pulled in on the A1 by Scremerston and had been there for over 20 hours. Two fire officers went out in a 4x4 to check on their welfare and deliver food to them.
Chief Fire Officer Paul Hedley said: “The snow and the strong winds have combined to create real problems not just in Northumberland but right around the country.
“It has been a real team effort to keep people safe and the county moving wherever possible. The county council has been working alongside numerous agencies, local communities and the other emergency services to try and keep the roads open, but there has been an enormous amount of drifting snow which has made this extremely difficult despite our very best efforts.
“The rest centres have provided a safe, warm and welcoming environment for people caught out by the bad weather and the fact so many people have used them shows their worth.”
Adult social care and community nursing services staff have been supporting the centres; arranging care, delivering medications and sourcing heaters and blankets. This support will continue to be available if further help is needed over the weekend.