Fire family planning a support Foundation

THE aftermath of the Sackville Road fire tragedy has proved so traumatic for the Hill family that they plan a Sheila Hill Foundation to help others.

Thursday, 23rd September 2004, 2:30 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 8:09 pm

They say loss of wife and mother Sheila Hill together with the family home and every single possession have revealed loopholes in officialdom's ability to respond to their needs.

In particular, there does not seem to be any organisation to provide someone to coordinate the many agencies with which they are now having to deal.

In the absence of this, the work is being done for them by family friend Heather Smart.

The family are still stunned and in shock, says Alan Hill. His elder son, also Alan, says the lack of any cohesive approach to the multiple problems the family faces has added to their suffering.

This is why, when finally their immediate affairs are settled, they hope to work with Heather in exploring the possibility of a Sheila Hill foundation.

Before the fire, family life centred on two adjoining family-owned flats. It meant that Sheila and Alan (senior's) daughter Angela and her son Finn were all part of a close family unit.

But it is now a month since Alan's mother died in the inferno. The survivors are in temporary accommodation in hotel rooms.

Alan senior is still waiting to hear from his insurers what they intend to do about both the property and its contents.

In the meantime, it is acts of individual kindness that are sustaining the family.

Ocean Bowling at Ravenside gave them free tickets. Unsurprisingly, the family find it impossible to relax and to escape the horrors of August 27 when sitting in hotel rooms.

Alan junior says: "Sometimes you need just to do something different - just to get out."

Bexhill Leisure Pool has also responded to their needs with the offer of free tickets.

Local contractor Gary Wilmshurst invited the family on a quad-biking day.

Alan junior says the family is deeply grateful for these and other kindnesses. But they have received no counselling, no offer of permanent housing, no approaches from other aid agencies.

He says: "We are not a family of 'takers.' We did not expect to have to go and ask. We thought there was a system in place to help people like us.

"Any official support we have had we have had to go out pro-actively and seek.

"All the organisations seem to have professional restrictions on making the first approach. It is down to us, we have to initiate it. I don't know what we would have done without Heather.

"All the family's paperwork went in the fire. We are all still in shock. We have had to ring insurance companies to see if we were insured with them.

"They say things like 'Have you got any identification?'

"You have to ask them to do a re-wind and think about that - of course we haven't. EVERYTHING was burned in the fire."

Sussex Police, who have been investigating the cause of the fire together with East Sussex Fire and Rescue experts, provided the family with a liaison officer.

Alan said: "He has been marvellous. But there are limits to what he can do as a police officer. It really needs someone to coordinate things in a crisis like this. You have to think of everything and it is so difficult to think clearly.

"Luckily, Heather is quite resourceful. But she is just a family friend. Without her, we would have been completely stuck."

Speaking of her Sheila Hill Foundation idea, Heather says: "I feel it would have been quite easy to have had someone to establish and maintain support.

"We are trying to think 'How can we make something POSITIVE out of all this?'"

Alan said: "You need to have someone detached from the family who is able to say 'Don't forget to do this and that.'"

Alan would like to return to work at Hastings College. But he fears that his mind would not be totally on the job he loves.

"People have been helping us and that is a credit to them individually. But it is actually a reflection on our society because as a country we don't appear to have anything else."