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Plymouth “pulling together” likened to war effort

Monday, 26 February 2024 08:30

By Alison Stephenson, local democracy reporter

A housing team Plymouth's Life Centre (Image: Plymouth City Council)

Hundreds of families helped by council

Plymouth has “pulled together” with hundreds of people and organisations doing their bit to help those had to leave their homes after an exploded second world war bomb was discovered in a garden in Keyham earlier this week.

Plymouth City Council says it has accommodated 260 families and supported 650 after more than 3,000 people had to vacate their properties.

The remainder of the residents from the 1,219 properties in the ‘major incident’ area have been staying with family and friends.

Since Tuesday, when the bomb was discovered in St Michael Avenue, bomb disposal experts from the army and navy have been assessing the device to determine with partners the best possible approach for its disposal. It was due to be removed at 2pm on Friday to be disposed of at sea in the “safest and least impactful option”.

Superintended Phil Williams from Devon and Cornwall Police says “it will be taken to a slipway near the Torpoint Ferry before being taken out to sea to be safely disposed of.  There’s obivously an element of risk, but it’s been assessed by the army who have deemed this is the lowest risk.”

Experts considered a controlled detonation could cause homes to be destroyed and damage from flying debris.

Cllr Sally Haydon, who is leading the council’s response as cabinet member for community safety, said it is an anxious time for the residents of Keyham.

“We have tried to do everything to make life a little easier for people experiencing this and have been constantly reassuring them.”

Beacon Centre and the Life Centre has provided an emergency rest space for people, with a crèche area for young children, an area where children could play boards games and watch television, space for breastfeeding, a prayer room and a quiet room.

Hot food, drinks, towels, nappies and toiletries are being made available.

Earlier on Friday, residents could only return to them homes to collect urgent items like medication or their pets.

“This has been an abnormal experience and some people just needed to lie down in the quiet, especially those who are struggling mentally or suffer from autism,” said Cllr Haydon.

She reflected how Keyham had already been through a traumatic experience with the shooting of five people at the hands of gunman Jake Davison in 2021 and she is grateful to the organisations and individuals who have provided support.

Cllr Haydon said she was so proud of everyone who had taken part.

“There are so many to mention but they included the Red Cross,  Livewell South West who provided nurses, a housing team from Plymouth Community Homes, we had people offering their airbnbs, City Bus put on a shuttle bus and we provided taxis to get people to the Life Centre and to other places. The library also provided books for all ages.

“Everyone has pulled together which is what we do in Plymouth and it makes me very emotional. People were personally thanking me but I was just doing my job on behalf of the council. No-one had to worry about accommodation, food or travel because we made sure that was all available to them at no cost.

“I think taking the money worries away was significant as we are in a cost of living crisis and some people only had enough money to pay their heating bill.

“Every step of the way we have kept them informed through press releases and social media and face to face contact.  We know people have been concerned about their property, possessions and personal memories but we had to be led by the experts, the military and the police, and their priority was protecting life.”

Cllr Haydon said she was moved by one lady comparing it to the war effort.

“We have spent so much time chatting to people and listening.  We were also glad we could accommodating people’s pets at the Life Centre.

“We we got several dogs coming through so we thought we better go and get some dog food as there is only so many cheesy chips they can eat,” she added with a smile.

She concluded: “I want to thank the residents who have been fantastic through this uncertain times.”

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