Sinkhole has created so much heartache, but community response has been wonderful

Speaker's Corner
Speaker's Corner

You won’t need me to tell you that it has been a very difficult time for people who live in Hemel Hempstead’s Oatridge Gardens, evacuated from their homes as a result of the large sinkhole that opened up under one of the houses and the road. I really feel for them all and the difficult position they find themselves in.

Several Oatridge Gardens residents who had been in the process of selling their share of their flat have contacted me – this sinkhole has caused them real problems.

It is heartbreaking for those who had already arranged new homes to go to and new schools for their children.

We are desperately trying to find a solution to this problem.

Having said that, the response of the local community has been wonderful and I have nothing but praise for the emergency services, council staff and utility companies who have been working round the clock.

Some local organisations are also worthy of particular mention. Both Tesco and Asda stores have offered residents clothing and school uniforms free of charge.

Adeyfield Free Church organised a free Sunday lunch event for the residents. The team at homelessness charity DENS have provided food and other local groups have been giving help. I’m sure I don’t even know about all the help being offered.

I was particularly impressed by the help offered by Appledown Kennels in Eaton Bray who have offered to help look after pets.

For those who have asked me about an appeal, I have contacted the chief executive of Dacorum Borough Council and I understand an announcement will be made shortly.

You don’t think of all the support people will need until something like this happens and it is really heart-warming to see the community coming together.

The sinkhole is now being filled in and geo-technical tests carried out. Once that is complete a new gas main will need to be laid.

This means that the houses will be without proper heating for a few weeks and, of course, residents whose homes are directly affected will sadly be living in hotels for some time to come.

In my role of minister for disabled people I have had the honour of meeting several truly inspirational athletes – as well as having the opportunity of trying out new sports.

I joined Paralympic swimmer and gold medallist Ellie Simmonds at the launch of Active Kids for All, which is sponsored by Sainsbury’s and aims to encourage the inclusion of young disabled people in PE and school sport within mainstream schools.

At the launch of a new fund to support disability football, I took part in a penalty shootout on Speaker’s Green with England blind team players Lewis Skyers and Dan English and their coaches.

The ball has a bell inside so the players know where it is. The MPs wore blindfolds and I have to admit I didn’t do particularly well!

Finally, if you’ve enjoyed supporting the medal-winning Team GB contestants in the Winter Olympics curling contests, look out for wheelchair curling when the Winter Paralympics get under way in Sochi.

Mike Penning is the MP for Hemel Hempstead. You can contact his office on 01442 251126 or visit his website by clicking here