|Picking up the pieces - community recovers after Worsley Mesnes gas blast
Cllr Lynne Holland welcomes resident Joe Byrom back to his home at Blake Close.
It was a typical cold, dark November Saturday night…
All over the country people were sitting down to enjoy their evening and for Worsley Mesnes ward councillor Lynne Holland it was a night in front of the telly.
Or rather it was, until just after 9.20pm when an almighty bang rattles the windows in her home.
At the same time Wigan and Leigh Housing tenant Joe Byrom looked out of the window of his ground floor flat on Blake Close. He contemplated taking his dog Blaze for a walk.
Seeing how miserable it is outside he thinks better of it - a decision that probably saved his life.
As many now know at 9.21pm on Saturday November 29, the block of council flats on Blake Close was rocked by a huge explosion.
A total of 36 flats were affected, nine of which were almost completely destroyed.
The cause remains under investigation and many are still coming to terms with the aftermath of the incident.
But for some the events of that cold November night have helped to highlight real community spirit and the willingness to pitch in and help when it is needed.
“We’ve always had a very strong community spirit in Worsley Mesnes,” says Cllr Holland. “But if there can be any good to come out of something like this then I would say it has made the community around Blake Close even stronger.
“I have seen people who did not even know each other before become firm friends as a result of their ordeals.”
As soon as news filtered through that there had been an explosion at the flats Cllr Holland ‘marshalled the troops’ and went into action.
“The whole family was involved,” she says. “We just had to get over their as soon as possible and when we arrived we really couldn’t believe what we saw.
“There was smoke and rubble and flames. It was like something out of a war zone."
She adds: “The emergency services were on hand and they were doing a brilliant job but there were people rushing out of the flats in whatever clothes they had on. They were scared and freezing cold. I knew we had to do something.”
As a member of committee at the nearby Worsley Mesnes Community Centre Cllr Holland’s first task was to get the doors open and provide everyone with shelter.
“From there everyone pitched in, we had to get tea bags so everyone could have a warm drink and then the people from Peter’s chippy sent round a huge food parcel for the people who had been left homeless. It was an amazing gesture.
“At this stage the council’s social workers and Wigan and Leigh Housing officers were on hand to help those who needed it but some of the residents were insisting that they were going back to their homes, which was impossible.”
Joe Byrom’s flat is virtually underneath the one at the centre of the blast.
“I was at the window thinking about taking Blaze out,” says Joe. “I turned away and there was an almighty explosion and the whole flat shook. As I looked out I could see whole chunks of the flat above landing on the grass in front of my house.
“If I had been out with the dog at that time I’m pretty sure I would have had it.”
Joe’s first thought was the right one – get out.
“I didn’t know what was happening but I knew I had to leave and quickly,” he says. “I ran out into the streets and other people were doing the same. Some were refusing to leave so I went back in to help. I just couldn’t believe how lucky I had been.”
The council and Wigan and Leigh homes had to find alternative accommodation for the occupants of 36 flats. Many of them were housed at a local hotel until it was safe to return.
“I went to visit the residents at the hotel,” says Cllr Holland. “They were in remarkably high spirits but they all wanted to get back home.”
Joe was able to stay with friends for four days until it was safe to return.
“We were kept well-informed throughout the process,” says Joe. “I was strange to come back. I still keep asking myself whether it all really happened.”
Cllr Holland was on hand to welcome Joe back and she’s been keeping tabs on the situation at Blake Close since.
“I think we are starting to get back to normal now but for some it will take some time,” she says. “All our thoughts are still with those who were injured in the blast and we’re wishing them a speedy recovery.”
Cllr Holland has since been praised for her actions on the night and since the explosion.
Leader of Wigan Council Lord Peter Smith says: “Lynne’s actions really do show what being a local councillor is all about.
“Some people think that councillors just turn up for meetings and talk a lot but it’s about much more than that. It’s about having a passion for your community and being prepared to get stuck in when the community needs you.
“Clearly Cllr Holland has done this and more and her actions are an inspiration to us all but we know that if needed, councillors of all persuasions across our borough would be ready to answer the call just like she did.”