For most people attending our recent AGM, the most memorable moment was Wendy Birkett’s courageous and heartfelt account of how R.A.B.I has helped her family following the sudden death of husband Alistair recently, aged just 46.
Alistair farmed in Cumbria. R.A.B.I’s Jackie Clegg and Georgina Lamb also spoke articulately about their work in Cumbria following the winter storms which delivered an unprecedented 1.5 trillion litres of water – that’s a foot of water for every inch of Cumbria.
Here are Wendy’s touching words:
“I stand here today as a tribute to my darling husband Alistair and as a very large, heartfelt thank you to R.A.B.I for all the help and support they have shared with me and our wonderful children. Georgina and Jackie are amazing – they are both extremely special people.
“Storm Desmond hit on December 5 and it brought devastation to hundreds of Cumbrian farmers with fast moving water full of debris and trees, ripping out fences, gates, walls, buildings and hillsides. Nowhere was hit worse than the farms of the northern lakes, Thirlmere, Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite. That catchment area is our patch. It was Alistair’s patch.
“The main road through Cumbria, the A66, was blocked by a landslide three weeks before Desmond came. Everything was waterlogged. Everyone knew trouble was coming. Highways didn’t clear the A66, Alistair did, with our boys, our tractors and our diggers – not for payment, or a medal, just because it needed doing.
“When Desmond hit, the rivers were in the fields, roads were streams, lakes joined up and the water was an inch from our door. It was right through the house of a dear neighbour and his greenhouse couldn’t be seen. The phone never stopped ringing and everyone needed Alistair. We needed him and still do. But he got his digger on the trailer and set off. Alistair saved three houses from flooding before most people were even out of bed, whilst his own caravans at home became part of the lake. That evening he came home and got his family to get our sheep out of the flood. We all had torches on and, in three feet of water, we dragged sheep from the sheds. Some had to swim, some were lost.
“Our daughter Ellie, 11, has lambed all of her dad’s sheep, 600 of them, 24/7 over the Easter holiday – her daddy would be so proud. He was a very good teacher. We also have 80 cows to calve. Our young family, four sons, Dan, Jonathan, Luke, Jack and our daughter Ellie, her daddy’s princess, have been left with a mountain of work.
“Their dad was a gentle giant and a mountain of a man. He was unique. We are now all working as a team, the ‘A’ team. That’s Alistair’s team. We will keep his legacy going. We have to, as I know that’s exactly what he would want.”
Wendy received a standing ovation from our AGM guests who were all not only touched by her story – and impressed by her strength and resilience – but heartened to hear of the practical help that support for R.A.B.I can provide.
Thank you, Wendy, for sharing your story.