A year after Christmas Eve floods: a love letter to Waveney
- Credit: Abigail Mill
From devastation comes beauty: textile artist Abigail Mill has created a love letter to the Waveney Valley a year after Christmas Eve floods destroyed much of her life’s work.
The December 2020 flooding of Redenhall in South Norfolk left complete chaos in its wake and a traumatised community struggling to cope with the aftermath.
Seven households in Redenhall and Lush Bush lost almost everything while Abigail and partner David Meredith saw their new studios completely overwhelmed by floodwater.
The pair had moved to Waveney just six months previously in June 2020, realising a long-held dream for Abigail who had always wanted to move back to her childhood home.
“We moved into a beautiful 17th century cottage with a cattery which was perfect for an artist studio conversion for Dave and myself,” she said.
“We had a dream summer of kayaking and enjoying the amazing wildlife around us. We even had a family of kingfishers living in the beck at the bottom of our garden.
“Fast forward six months to the night of the Redenhall flood and I was wading through freezing water on a cold and starry night having been woken up to the realisation that Redenhall was one metre under water.”
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Water began to creep into homes at 11.55pm on December 23 and by 12.30am electricity was off and villagers were facing raging waters in total darkness.
After a months’ worth of rainfall fell in one day – Starston Beck burst its bank and the surface water from surrounding fields inundated village houses.
Abigail said: “We didn’t have a hope. It went from 1ft at 1am and at 3am it was one metre. It was like we were sitting in a goldfish bowl.
“The three bungalows alongside me were totally wiped out. I woke up to farmers knocking on my door saying we were going to lose our vehicles.
“Our studio was flooded but our poor neighbours had over a metre of internal flood water, so they were our priority and we had to rescue them as they were trapped by the water.”
She explained that the community had come together, both on the night of the flooding when elderly residents were rescued and others rehomed, and since with an action group formed to call for immediate action.
Abigail set up Redenhall Flood Group, along with a group of 12 local families, to campaign for a flood warning system, a new bridge on the A143 rather than repairs and improved maintenance of Starston Beck. Two of the couples recently featured in ITV documentary It Takes a Flood.
“Unless you’ve been flooded, it’s very difficult to described the damage and destruction of flood water. I know that in comparison to others, we were lucky,” she said.
Abigail’s studio had been used to store the only stock she had left: she saw precious treasures collected over a lifetime damaged by floodwater, original artwork damaged and old art school portfolios had to be taken away by insurers to rescue.
In the early days after the flood, she and David tried to dry stock and rescue power tools and sewing machines while helping neighbours deal with flood damage.
“I don’t think there was a day at the beginning when I didn’t cry,” said Abigail, who first set up her business 30 years ago in Norwich with a grant from the Princes’ Trust.
But despite the devastation, Abigail’s adoration of the place where she lives has won through and shines in every page of her beautiful new book.
“My love affair with the Waveney Valley began when I was just a child,” she writes in her new book, Waveney Valley Wildlife Embroidered by Abigail Mill, “raised in the mystical All Saints, I remember trips to the Otter Trust at Earsham, drinks in the Geldeston Locks and paddling at the Black Swan in Homersfield, but I don’t think I really appreciated the envorinment, beauty and importance of the River Waveney and surrounding countryside.
“Huge open skies, beautiful sunsets and the changing of the harvests from the bright yellow rapeseed fields to the deep-ploughed furrows of the winter, I found myself consumed with the ever-changing wildflowers in the hedgerows and meadows and, of course, the beck and the river – the very things that almost immersed us in the flood of December 2020.”
Written in the 11 months that followed the flood, the book contains 60 pages of textiles and projects to follow at home, a history of the valley and Abigail’s own photographs of the landscape which inspires her.
With work created on a loaned Bernina sewing machine – hers were lost in the flood – the book is a glorious love letter to Waveney, complete with wrens, otters, barn owls, kingfishers, cows and hares set against the flower-filled landscapes of the district.
With 98-pages, it includes an A1 pattern sheet for six textile projects – when her studio is complete in early 2022, Abigail hopes to begin Creative Machine Embroidery workshops and hold Open Studio events.
Orders for the book, which was launched live on Facebook, have poured in from across the globe with fans picking up copies from Britain, America, Finland, France and Australia.
Flagged as one of the top 16 sites across Norfolk that are regularly at risk of flooding by the Norfolk Strategic Flooding Alliance, a partnership of agencies across Norfolk working to provide a consistent and coordinated response to flooding in the county, the village is still waiting for the action it believes is needed to prevent another devastating flood.
“I spent all year writing the book and working with the flood group,” said Abigail.
“It’s been a tough year, but I’ve met some amazing people along the way and the sense of community spirit within Redenhall is stronger than ever.”
· Waveney Valley Wildlife Embroidered by Abigail Mill, £25, is available at www.abigailmill.co.uk.