The Shurgard fire that raged for three days and saw the tram network disrupted for almost a week has also robbed hundreds of residents and business people of their possessions. Now, they face uncertain times. Report by KIRSTIE SMITH
Abby-Rose Davidson is a Croydon business owner who fears she has lost everything in last week’s Shurgard warehouse fire. She is one of 1,198 Shurgard customers who have lost their possessions in the fire, and who now face weeks, possibly months, of negotiations with insurers.
Another Croydon businessman told the BBC this morning that he had lost stock worth at least £180,000, yet the Shurgard insurance cover was likely to pay-out just £2,000 per unit.
Running a children’s entertainment and mascot business, Davidson used Shurgard to store many of her costumes, personal items and business equipment. Bespoke character costumes were hand-made by her mother, to the measurements of the entertainers.
Davidson was alerted to the fire by a family member on New Year’s Day. She checked the news. A few hours later, she received an email from Shurgard confirming the devastation and stating that it was highly unlikely anything would be salvageable.
A later email to Davidson and other clients stated that Shurgard would be back in contact soon, with further information on what happens next.
In a statement issued by Shurgard before the weekend, it appeared that the company was already taking steps to limit their and their own insurers liabilities as a result of the fire destroying their clients’ possessions.
While the company offered sympathetic words, “We know that this is a devastating event for all our customers. We remain committed to updating them, and providing support, for as long as necessary”, it seems unlikely that the company will be wanting to offer much in the form of compensation.
“At Shurgard, we require all our customers to have insurance cover for their belongings,” their statement said. “Customers have the option of purchasing insurance cover offered at Shurgard, or through their own broker. The value of insurance cover is based on each customer’s declared value.” The message seems clear enough.
Questions have been raised about the building’s lack of sprinklers and on-site staff. Shurgard maintain that the warehouse was fully compliant with all fire and safety regulations.
But appearing on this morning’s Victoria Derbyshire Show, Croydon North MP Steve Reed OBE, pictured below, said, “Not only was the design of the building not constructed to contain fire, it sounds like it was constructed to facilitate the spread of fire.
“The fact that the walls didn’t go up to the top of every unit allows the flames to spread from one unit to another, the fact you have no idea what was in each unit… there could have been flammable material.
“There were no sprinklers in place. It sounds to me that these people have been sold services on the basis that this facility was safe and secure, but actually no measures have been put in to make sure a fire like this could get put out rapidly.”
For her part, Davidson is uncertain whether her insurance will cover the cost of her lost costumes and equipment: when she first rented the storage unit three years ago, she thought the insurance would only cover stolen items. Like many of those affected by the fire, she doesn’t yet know where she stands and is uncertain whether insurance was in her contract with Shurgard.
While insurance may be a financial safety net and some items can be replaced, sentimental items cannot and it’s the wider impact that such devastation has on residents after such a loss.
In Davidson’s case, almost everything she had relating to her business was in storage. Because of the fire, her costume range has been reduced from 40 characters to just six. Party bookings for January may have to be amended and customers contacted, but she has been touched by the support of followers on social media, her previous customers, friends and the local community.
Davidson’s business prided itself on the quality of its costumes and relies on her expertise, reputation and the high standard of training. This will no doubt be crucial now as she tries to rebuild her business.
The cause of the fire is still the subject of a police investigation, with one man having been arrested on Thursday and subject to further enquiries. For Abby-Rose Davidson and other Croydon traders and business owners who used the Shurgard self-storage facility, the next few weeks will be filled with uncertainty.
“I feel sorry for those who have lost their home contents, because a business is replaceable,” Davidson said. But even rebuilding a business will take time.
Shurgard’s Croydon Purley Way website page now lists “0” units, and a statement on their web page apologises for the devastating event.
The inconvenience and devastation caused by the fire will be, like the smoke on New Year’s Day, wide-reaching.
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