When the river Lune rose to record levels on December 5 2015, Lancaster’s biggest hotel had 200 guests booked in for the night.
The Holiday Inn is situated just metres from the riverside in Caton Road, and as the water continued to rise, staff quickly realised the situation was going to be serious.
General manager Francis Hindle took a call from his reception team at around 1pm, who said the water had risen up to the cycle path.
He said that the hotel had never flooded in its 40 year history, so he wasn’t too worried at that point.
But three hours later the river was covering the children’s playground at the back of the hotel, and was just starting to breach the lower restaurant area.
Dennisons Trailers, also situated in Caton Road, were booked in for their Christmas party, and the hotel had 200 guests, including three coach parties.
“I arrived at 4.30pm and it soon became clear that the water was still rising and it was going to be serious,” recalls Mr Hindle.
“We lost power and gas fairly quickly, and were running on back up lighting.
“We took advice from our insurers and their initial advice was to evacuate.
“But we had lots of people in the hotel, so we did lots of ringing around to see if we could re-house them.
“It was what we were going to send people out into that was the worry.
“The roads were dreadful, and we were worried that we would be sending people out into an even more dangerous situation.
“In the end I managed to send some people to Stoke-on-Trent Holiday Inn. We tried lots of other hotel brands but no-one was able to take them.
“There was one tour group heading north the next day, so I tried up as far as Glasgow airport, but it was a no go, so they ended up staying.
“We had about 100 guests stay with us that night.”
As the light faded the water continued to rise, destroying mains electricity points, the telephone system, computer server cabinets, and the air conditioning unit.
It completely flooded the health club, kitchens, the pool and public areas, and rose to 1.2m at the front of the hotel.
“It was cold, the weather was miserable. There was no power, no heating, and no showers the next morning.
“That night I drove home 30 miles to the Blackburn area with a load of conference flasks and boiled water so people could have a hot drink in the morning.
“The only way I can describe it would be like a blitz spirit.
“Our guests were very understanding and everything settled down in the early hours of the morning.
“We very quickly realised that this was going to be a major refurbishment.”
After the water receded, contractors arrived on site to strip out the hotel to begin the dry out, and it was the new year before it was dry enough to start refurbishment work.
Six months and a £4m makeover later, the hotel is now welcoming guests again.
“The upshot is that it was an opportunity to refurbish, we’ve integrated an open lobby space, and that will roll out to all Holiday Inns in Europe by 2019,” said Mr Hindle.
“Every bedroom and bathroom has been refurbished as well. It’s like a brand new hotel.
“Around £300,000 has been spent on a new air conditioning system, which is now walled in at the back, £80,000 on relocating the electrics, some of which now comes from the ceilings.
“Boilers have all been wall mounted and there is water proof render in walls.
“We’re also looking at installing flood barriers that rise up out of the ground.”
Mr Hindle said the 156-bed hotel has managed to retain all of its 60 staff.
“It’s great to finally have customers back through the door after six months of hard work,” he added.
The hotel is also expecting to welcome back Dennison Trailers, who were also badly affected themselves, for a Jolly June Christmas Party, on June 25, in lieu of the cancelled event on December 5.