M62’s community junction

Helping others comes naturally to some. Those people are community glue. For others, it often takes something dramatic to launch them into action. Step forward the Milnrow M62 volunteer army…

This wasn’t a war, but motorway closure was the catalyst. Giving shelter to stranded drivers revealed the compassion and generosity of a Lancashire village.

A snowy, windswept and gridlocked M62 was the setting in early March. A stone’s throw away, Milnrow sits astride the Pennines artery. In fact, a section of flyover rumbles relentlessly above the rooftops of terraces on the edge of the village.

When the first heavy flakes swept across the hills as the Beast from the East storm took hold, it was no surprise that one of the country’s most exposed sections of motorway was soon smothered.

Bumps, crashes and overturned lorries followed. It was no brief stoppage. Conditions worsened and it was obvious that nearly 4,000 vehicles were going nowhere. The six lanes were, for once, silent.

Then Social media burst into life. Alongside criticism of various agencies (who were powerless to resolve matters quickly), a common thread emerged: how can we help these people? asked countless online users.

And it was a genuine question. Within the hour a base was established at the Butterworth Community Hall. It’s off the main street, up a lane that was piled high with snow but no match for determined helpers.

Milnrow makeshift shelter

A couple of leaders stepped up to coordinate the troops, but it was a steady stream of Milnrow locals who left warm beds behind to collect blankets, make tea and sandwiches, and offer warmth and shelter from the howling winds.

Frustrated lorry drivers, shell-shocked families, and elderly folk all unprepared for the carnage soon smiled when they managed to escape the mayhem and were welcomed into the hall.

Nearby, a church also threw open its doors. Then a day care nursery, all run by unpaid volunteers who just wanted to help strangers who would rather have passed through unnoticed.

Others arrived with hot food, offers of rooms in their homes or lifts to the nearest railway station for those in desperate need to get home as morning arrived.

The community spirit was a wonderful cocktail of young and old; retirees and workers who really should have been tucked up in bed. Instead they battled on as more and more sought shelter.

This was community spirit at its best. Few names were exchanged, just hot drinks, the odd mattress and scribbled directions when the first minor roads were declared fit to take the weary travellers on their way.

It was wonderful to be part of it, a window on a world that many think has disappeared. It’s not. Community spirit is alive and kicking. Long may it continue.

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