Downpatrick business owner pleads for help as town devastated by floods

A business owner in flood-stricken Downpatrick has pleaded for more support to repair the town centre after her shop and several others were “completely submerged in water”.

Ciara Douglas, 52, who owns Making Memories For You – a shop dedicated to children’s occasional wear specialising in communion, said she has “lost everything” and the businesses in the town centre have been “destroyed” in the flooding caused by heavy rainfall.

The operation to pump water from the area was successfully completed on Saturday, according to Stormont officials, but business owners have been left with devastated properties and stock as they wait for assessors and insurance companies to survey the damage.

Ms Douglas, who has always lived in Downpatrick, said the water had been contaminated after barrels used for heating oil started to float during the flooding and “emptied into the water”.

“The water was very badly contaminated with oil and flooded in all the shops,” Ms Douglas told the PA news agency.

Ciara Douglas smiling at the camera wearing a black jumper
Business owner Ciara Douglas said she has ‘lost everything’ during the heavy flooding (Ciara Douglas/PA)

“The road is so dangerous and the paths are really dangerous because, the water’s gone, but the oil has now settled onto the footpaths and roads which is a slipping hazard.

“You can’t let cars down, you can’t let people walk on the footpaths and they’re now trying to clean that.

“What’s happened on the street is inside everybody’s shop.

“The whole town is submerged in heating oil.”

Ms Douglas started her business, located just off the Market Street area, on October 11 last year to help people celebrate special occasions.

She estimates she has lost around £7,000 worth of stock and around £30,000 of equipment due to the flooding.

“We were only one year in our business, we were only building the business and building the name,” she said.

The floor of Ciara Douglas' shop showing warped flooring following the flooding
The flooring inside Ciara Douglas’ shop following the flooding (Ciara Douglas/PA)

Ms Douglas said she managed to retrieve around 40 dresses for customers, but said “the water started to rise too high and we had to get out”.

“We’ve lost everything, we’ve lost our floor, we’ve lost the curtains, there were hats and gloves that were still left, all our padded hangers are gone.”

Becoming emotional, she added: “I’ve had so many messages from the girls who I would have dressed for their communion saying ‘we love you, we’re so sorry, we hope your shop opens again’.”

She said her insurance was not helping to cover for any of the damages, citing act of God reasons.

“I would say 99.9% of the shops in the town have insurance and the insurance won’t cover the flood,” she said.

“The shops are destroyed, myself included.

“Everyone is trying to grasp their hands on something to try and keep their business afloat, but it’s hard.”

The flooding in Downpatrick on Wednesday night
The flooding in Downpatrick on Wednesday night (Ciara Douglas/PA)

The powersharing impasse means there are no elected ministers in place at Stormont to take the lead on the response to the floods, and Ms Douglas said the town has been “left with no answers”.

“There’s no-one to tell us anything,” she said.

“Where’s anyone coming to the town who can try and help the people that are standing in Downpatrick waiting for an answer?

“There’s 30-something shops in Downpatrick that have been affected, there’s no shops left.”

She added that she is hoping the UK Government will stand up for the business owners and residents in Downpatrick and “help us out”.

“These are family-run businesses living month to month, day to day,” she said.

Autumn weather November 4th 2023
Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service pumped water from flooded premises in Downpatrick town centre on Saturday (Peter Morrison/PA)

“I’m trying to be a voice for the town, shouting out and saying, come on, get help here.

“Get money to this town, help everybody.”

Ms Douglas added that it’s “so hard to see the stress on everyone’s faces”.

She is hoping her insurance company will allow her to access her shop on Monday to start the recovery process, but she said “things need to be happening at a faster pace”.

She added: “The next thing is the insurance companies need to come into every one of the shops and that needs to happen sooner rather than later.

“If we can go in, we can start stripping all the stuff out, we haven’t been able to touch anything within the building.

“We’re waiting on insurance companies and this needs to happen faster.

“People can’t be waiting a week on an insurance company coming, that’s a week longer for their business to be out of trade, that’s a week longer for them to be able to start on their recovery process.

“Things need to be happening at a faster pace.”