‘I never thought I’d hear myself saying we need a lido here,’ says one resident of city better known for drizzle and downpours
Mad dogs and Englishmen, so it is said, go out in the midday sun. Not so, it seems, in an age of searing global warming.
In the parks, playgrounds and greenspace of Doncaster on Tuesday, there was barely a soul to be found.
This South Yorkshire city – better known, weather-wise, for drizzle and downpours – was one of a handful of places across Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire which initial reports suggest saw temperatures of 40C by mid-afternoon. It meant Donny was just a degree cooler than Dubai.
Yet people here had not, it appeared, reacted with the traditional English attitude of won’t-last-long-best-get-out-in-it. Rather, many had apparently heeded the advice of the city’s director of public health, Dr Rupert Suckling, to stay home and draw the curtains.
“Get good weather and this park can be heaving, even on a weekday,” said Joy Salcock, owner of the café in Sandall Park, one of the city’s largest green spaces. “But this isn’t good weather, is it? This is frightening for a lot of people.”
While she’d had a handful of customers that morning (“it would have to be bad before our regulars stopped coming for a fry up”), she’d decided to close early for the afternoon.
“I don’t believe in this shutting down the world as soon as things get difficult,” the 69-year-old declared while taking a break from her broiling kitchen. “You get an inch of snow these days and everything comes to a stop. That didn’t happen in my day. Now it’s the sun! But… this isn’t normal. There’s no point us [staying open] when there’s no one here.”
The early clock-off was welcome news for the staff.
They’d spent the morning rotating between standing at the hobs and escaping into the outside shade for lollies and water. “I’ve never known anything like it,” said Pam Farley, a cook. “In fact, I have – but it was in the Philippines. I didn’t ever expect to be feeling the same way in Doncaster.”
Across this town, it was a similar story.
Dozens of schools here finished at lunchtime, libraries remained closed on both Monday and Tuesday and several restaurants – including the high-end Glass Strawberry – had similarly kept their doors closed. Bosses at the area’s premier tourist attraction, Yorkshire Wildlife Park, meanwhile, had also taken the decision not to open. It meant staff could focus instead on keeping their prize animals cool: eight polar bears.
In three parks visited by The Independent – that’s Sandall, Hexthorpe Park and the Lakeside area – few people could be seen. Every single play area was deserted. Much grass stood parched. So intense did the heat become that by mid-afternoon, a wildfire broke out in the Sprotbrough Road area.
“I’ve known it hot here in my time,” said Joe Blackham, a cabinet member with Doncaster Council. “But never anything like this. It’s unbearable. A minute outside and you’re suffering.”
The 77-year-old was staying at home with his wife in shaded rooms. “I’m in shorts and T-shirt,” he said down the phone. “I’m still too warm.”
Few in Doncaster, he reckoned, had any illusions that this was climate change in action. The council here has already set the aim of being carbon neutral by 2030 with diesel vehicles being phased out of the authority’s fleet and a target to plant a million trees.
“But [as a society] we need to be more aggressive in tackling this,” said Blackham, a retired factory production manager by profession. “There needs to be greater urgency in finding substitute fuels. We have got to move more rapidly.”
Some say the economic hit of moving so fast would be too great. “What’s the alternative?” he asked. “Leave the economic hit for our grandchildren instead.”
Back at Sandall Park, meanwhile: a visitor!
Victoria Simiyu and son Nathan Ma had come here for a walk while they waited to pick up a friend from a nearby hospital appointment. But, upon stepping out of the car, they’d decided, actually, they’d just wait inside the vehicle instead, in the shade, with the air con on full blast.
“I felt like I was going to combust,” she said. “I never thought I’d hear myself say that Doncaster needs a lido.”
Yet, the mother-of-six refused to be downbeat about the situation.
“We’ve got so many nice places here,” she said. “I’ve always said we just need the weather and Doncaster would be brilliant [for tourists]. Well, I suppose now, at least, we’ve got the weather.”
As she stepped out into the direct sunlight again – this time to be photographed by The Independent – she fanned herself and considered the assertion. “Although perhaps it could be a couple of degrees cooler,” she decided.