Heroes of the snow who warmed their communities' hearts

THE Arctic conditions that brought the country to a virtual standstill caused a storm of criticism.

Stranded rail passengers fumed at train operators as networks ground to a halt, while politicians and union leaders blamed one another after airports and roads were closed, in some cases for days at a time. But amid all the mayhem and finger-pointing there have been numerous examples of good samaritans coming to the help of others.

My wife was one of the thousands of people who got stuck in the snow, although fortunately she was just a couple of streets away from where we live when she was forced to abandon her car. The following day we went to try and dig it out. We only moved into the area a couple of months ago so haven't had the chance to get to know our neighbours, but a man living across the road who had just finished clearing his drive let us borrow his snow shovel and when we reached my wife's car a woman in the house opposite came out to lend us a hand.

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After 20 minutes, we still hadn't managed to free the car, at which point a passing Royal Mail van stopped and two postmen jumped out to give the car a push, and finally we were able to manoeuvre it out of the snow. If these kind people hadn't come to our aid it would have taken the two of us hours to get the car free.

Now, to me, this says the community spirit that we're so often told no longer exists is, in fact, very much alive. It would be an exaggeration to liken it to the Blitz spirit of wartime Britain, but the adverse weather has undoubtedly brought out the best in some people and created a sense that "we're all in this together", to borrow our politicians' favourite mantra.

In Dullatur, North Lanarkshire, the local community sprang into action when an ambulance became stuck in snow. Neighbours of all ages came out and helped push the vehicle, which was taking a man with suspected appendicitis to hospital, up an icy hill. Meanwhile, in East Yorkshire, two police officers struggled through waist-deep snow to rescue a pregnant woman stranded in her Land Rover near Pocklington.

Such selfless acts were repeated up and down the country as individuals instinctively went to the help of those in need.

The heavy snow mean that many people found themselves cut off. At the Lion Inn at Blakey Ridge, near Kirkbymoorside, in North Yorkshire, a couple and five staff were trapped for more than a week after 20ft of snow piled up against the 16th century pub. Chef Daniel Butterworth, who was among those stuck inside, said they kept each other entertained until the snow started to thaw and they were able to go home.

The village of Topcliffe, near Thirsk, became the coldest place in England during the recent big freeze when temperatures plummeted to an eye-watering –19C. Parish council chairman Garry Key reckoned the cold snap was the coldest he could remember, but said the villagers got through it thanks to their "good community spirit".

It's one thing to come to the aid of your local community but it's another to help complete strangers, which is what happened in South Anston. The South Yorkshire village hit the headlines after a nearby stretch of the A57 became gridlocked following heavy snow with as many as 100 drivers forced to sleep in their vehicles.

But despite struggling with icy conditions themselves, local villagers rallied round and the local Methodist hall was opened up as an impromptu shelter until police and rescue teams arrived. Jackie Scott, a local parish councillor, was among those helping out. "People started coming in with bread and soup and later on with big pans of chilli and curry and others arrived with bedding and blankets," she says.

"A couple of girls went out into the snow and knocked on all the car doors telling the drivers that the hall was open and to follow them. People turned up asking what they could do to help and some even offered to take people in for the night, it was amazing, there was just a wonderful atmosphere.

"A van delivering meat to the local butcher was one of those that got stuck, so the driver flagged down a police car and asked if they would take it to the butcher's shop, and they did."

So why does she think the bad weather has galvanised so many people? "It gives them opportunity to help and it shows the brighter side of life – something we don't always see enough of."