Two years after being devastated by a waist-high flood of water, Herne Hill businesses are still struggling to stay afloat.
Café Provencal in Half Moon Lane was swamped on August 7 2013 after a worn-out Thames Water pipe exploded in the early morning, sending a wall of water rushing across the area.
Owner Adam Shipley told the News: “I got a call from a friend who said ‘You better get down to Herne Hill’. When I arrived it was just carnage. Cars had been dragged down the road by the force of the water and lampposts were bent.
“The café was devastated, especially downstairs which was basically upside-down. Fridges were floating about, you name it. I waded through the water to get my insurance documents, which was probably a bad idea what with the electricity and everything, but I was just in shock.”
The cost of the flood, clean-up and administration fees totalled tens of thousands of pounds, which was only partially covered by his insurance. The cafe was forced to close for nine months – although Adam continued paying the wages of his three full-time staff members.
Now, two years later, Adam is still out of pocket and feels let down by Thames Water.
He said: “They admitted full responsibility but I tried to go through my insurers instead of going straight to Thames Water. That was a mistake because I was underinsured – but hindsight is a wonderful thing. Now Thames Water are not even meeting with us.
“They keep showing off about how they’ve helped the area and given £100,000 to a community fund. But that’s not gone to any local businesses, it’s gone to infrastructure and banners. What’s the point in spending money on that if there’s not going to be any businesses left?”
Adam is now reluctantly asking his “amazing customers” for help instead in the form of a fundraising appeal as he battles to clear the café’s debts and keep the coffee flowing for Herne Hill residents.
He said: “I am so touched by how the community has helped, either by donating, coming to the café more often or offering advice. I don’t want to have to ask for help but unfortunately I need to.
“I started a crowd-funding webpage because at the moment I’m juggling so many things. I don’t know how long we can last but I’m doing my best to stay open as long as possible. It’s a mutual thing – we stay in businesses and the people of Herne Hill get an independent café with local people who understand and care about the area.
“If we go, all we’ll be left with is some faceless chain store – and nobody wants that.”
A statement from Thames Water said: “We’re really sorry to hear businesses in Herne Hill are still recovering. We’ve taken full responsibility for what happened and tried to ensure all insurance claims made with us directly are settled as quickly as possible. We also donated £100,000 to match LB Southwark’s community fund in 2013 to support the business community.
“Many businesses opted to claim through their own insurers but we are happy to review all cases and assist in any way we can to ensure all outstanding claims are resolved as quickly as possible.”
Help keep Café Provencal in business by donating at: http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/save-cafe-provencal or popping in yourself to buy a cuppa.