September 20th 2014. Five years ago. I’d almost forgotten the anniversary with all that’s happened since then. Not my anniversary, but the anniversary of the disastrous flood at our previous premises in Witham.
Maybe in Taipei or Haiti where they are used to catastrophic weather events, but Essex? It was early on Saturday morning and no staff were in the building when the cloud burst hit. Someone checking the CCTV later that morning alerted us to a problem and when we arrived the scene was like something out of a disaster film.
The water had receded, but the devastation was complete. Water marks on our very expensive printers revealed the water level had reached one and a half feet. Deep enough to kill both our VUTEks, every hemmer and eyelet machine with floor mounted pedals and our new Zund Digital Cutter, not to mention rolls of material printed and unprinted that had been submerged.
The water had been so deep on the industrial estate that a huge recycling container had floated to the other side of the car park. We wondered why even the first floor offices had been flooded, until we realised that the water pressure on the drains outside had created geysers out of the gutter pipes on the roof and that water had come in through the ceiling.
I remember wondering around like a zombie not knowing where to start and then bumping into my co-director Wayne, both of us welling up. All our hard work over the last five years was soaked in filthy water and silt.
Luckily, Steve (our production manager), who is unfazed by literally anything, gathered the troops and we had our incredible staff working the rest of the weekend to clear the mess. Max, our engineer sat in a puddle behind the VUTEks dismantling the water-damaged components and ordering new ones from EFI, which with amazing customer back up were flown in overnight.
Unbelievably, by Tuesday evening we were up and running again and we worked through the night to clear the backlog of work. I was suffering with a urinary infection from the filthy water and all of us were suffering from a stressful situation and a serious lack of sleep.
It was five months before the offices and production were back to their pre-flood condition. Silly things you don’t think about, like a few weeks after the flood we had a mosquito infestation. Now, to compound the already damaged building, the interior walls had to be cut out to knee height because larva from the filthy water was in the insulation behind the walls, and was now hatching.
Looking back on it, I am immensely proud of our team. Their dedication and hard work meant we made it through. In hindsight I am almost glad it happened, because if you can make it through something like that, there’s not much that can faze you.