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25 February 2010

Following the recent devastating floods in Cockermouth, Cumbria, ServiceMaster Clean were called in by NFU Mutual to carry out extensive disaster restoration services to both homes and businesses in the town.

Specialists in water damage restoration and mitigation, ServiceMaster Clean has a longstanding reputation as an industry leader. With several businesses based nearby they were quickly on site to assess the damage and aid the clean up operation.

As so many properties were affected by the flood waters, ServiceMaster Clean drafted in businesses from the wider region, with the aim of getting policy holders back into their properties as quickly and efficiently as possible.

ServiceMaster Clean in Carlisle is owned and run by brother and sister team Bradley and Tracey Bigrigg who were the lead ServiceMaster Clean business working with the NFU on this project. They have worked with the NFU for many years and have worked hard to build a good relationship with them. Tracey believes that this is why the NFU continue to turn to them to carry out disaster restoration projects.

Tracey comments; "The key point for us has been to understand how the NFU want their customers to be treated; with the emphasis very much on the personal touch. The NFU really do care about their customers and expect the contractor they appoint to do the same. This translates into spending time with the policy holder and reassuring them that their claim will be dealt with quickly and efficiently and then delivering on that promise. The NFU are one of our biggest customers and we recognise that by working hard to keep their policy holders happy."

"We were called into Cockermouth by the NFU on the 19th November 2009 to deal with over 50 properties. The majority of these properties had been completely destroyed on the ground floor with almost 100 percent loss of contents. Our job has been to strip out and document and dispose of all contents beyond restoration. Where furniture could be restored we have worked hard to do so, drafting in our sister organisation Furniture Medic as a valuable resource. We have also pressure washed and sanitised contaminated areas and installed drying equipment to dry the fabric of the building. We do work closely with the policy holder and the loss adjusters and make sure that we can be contacted at all times to answer and resolve any queries."

Mark Owen owns ServiceMaster Clean in Nantwich and has been involved with some of the most badly damaged properties in the town. He saw first hand the devastation caused and along with other ServiceMaster Clean businesses has been working with business and home owners to get properties to a condition where repairs can begin to be carried out.

Mark comments; "Driving into Cockermouth in November we knew things would be in a fairly grim condition. But the impact on the surrounding area was unbelievable; there were tide marks on the roadside fields where the flood waters had started to subside and the hedgerow was littered with startling debris such as TVs and overturned cars. When we arrived we were struck by a strange eeriness as it felt like a ghost town, only emergency services and works vehicles were allowed access and there was no gas, electricity or telephone. Windows had been smashed on every property so that emergency services could gain access and there were signs of severe water damage everywhere."

"The worst damage was on Gote Road. At the worst of the flooding the houses on this road were under around 7ft of water which was just short of the ceiling on the ground floor of the properties."

After the emergency services, ServiceMaster Clean were one of the first organisations to be given access to the town to begin the clean up operation. In order to clean and sanitise the properties they had been instructed to work on, the flood waters needed to have subsided to a manageable level, by the time the teams arrived there was around a foot of water remaining.

After a flood everything inside a property is contaminated so the first thing ServiceMaster Clean needed to do was to spray everywhere with a chemical solution to sanitise the building and minimise the potential health risks. They then had to clear the property completely.

Mark continues; "At this stage I would say the most important part of our job after health and safety is to work closely with the home owner. Whilst we do have a job to carry out we need to make sure that we are sympathetic to the trauma experienced by the people involved."

"We find that the best way to do this is to involve them in the process so that they feel useful and productive. The most important thing they can do is to compile a comprehensive list of everything that was in the property from furniture to personal possessions. We also itemise everything that we remove from the property and both lists then go to the insurance company. This is something that is often overlooked by homeowners due to emotions running high and can be very important when dealing with insurers."

Once the property is completely clear and sanitised ServiceMaster Clean will then assess the extent of the damage and make recommendations to the insurers. For example the plaster and plasterboard may need to be stripped back in certain areas of the property, kitchen units may need removing and woodwork such as doors and skirting board will almost certainly need to be replaced.

To dry the property and get it to a stage where it can be handed over to the contractors to start repairs, the teams bring in specialist equipment including dehumidifiers and air movers. The time that this process takes depends on lots of factors including the age and condition of the property and the type of construction, but is typically around two months. On-going checks are carried out to monitor the progress and customers are kept up to date at all times as to the progress.

An incident like the flooding experienced in Cockermouth tends to bolster a community in the days that follow, which sees people pulling together to make the best out of a bad situation. From experience, ServiceMaster Clean business owners have found that this only lasts for a limited period of time and as the clean up and restoration process progresses, it becomes increasingly important to keep home and business owners informed. Lack of knowledge in relation to the work being carried out on their properties will leave people feeling powerless and frustrated, so constant, clear communication is a crucial part of the service.

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