Communities unite around flood risk and response by Sophie King

Communities unite around flood risk and response

Sophie King

Great news. Residents across Greater Manchester and the North West are getting together to talk about flooding. And on their own terms.

In December, flood activists in Lower Broughton called together members of flood-affected communities and flood action groups from Radcliffe, East Salford, Calderdale Valley, and Merseyside for a community exchange event at St Boniface’s Social Club. Community representatives shared photos and video footage and personal testimony of their experiences of the December 2015 flooding and of earlier flood events. They shared stories but also locally-owned strategies for how to respond to flood risk, from community emergency plans and vulnerable people support programmes to engagement with the National Flood Forum, neighbourhood surveys in support of advocacy for improved flood response, and community flood relief funds. More details about the ideas shared on the day and links to further advice and information can be found here Exchange for Flood Affected areas in the North West

Now, the Radcliffe Flood Action Group, are organising a conference to be hosted at Manchester Metropolitan University in August. This will provide an opportunity for flood action groups and concerned citizens from across the Irwell catchment and beyond to share their experiences and best practice, to network, and ultimately to generate a discussion around flood mitigation and adaptation. Further information and booking details will be distributed soon but in the meantime you can contact Paul O’Hare.

Community-led forums matter

There are several multi-agency partnerships around flooding and resilience at local authority level and for the North West, and some excellent initiatives to engage communities in flood preparedness such as the Irwell Valley Sustainable Communities project. There are however, very few, if any, opportunities for residents of affected areas to come together and share experiences and ideas on their own terms. Agendas of public meetings and events are usually set by the organisers and members of flood-affected communities come along as individual residents without any prior opportunity to meet and discuss their concerns or coalesce around their interests, setting forward their own agenda for the questions they would like answers to, or the priorities they would like brought to the fore.

As many of us are aware, and my own Community Resilience to flooding and wider research highlight, the challenge of flooding amidst increasingly unpredictable and extreme weather events in an era of climate change cannot ultimately be resolved at a neighbourhood level (although there is much that local communities can contribute as participants in December’s event demonstrated). Increasingly, those involved in managing flood risk and the research community argue for the need for catchment-wide approaches. This is challenging because it requires public service providers and local authorities to work in cooperation across administrative boundaries. Addressing questions of land and water use management in ways which ‘slow the flow’ also require engagement with significant power imbalances between the interests of flood-affected communities and private companies and landowners. Some issues must also be engaged with at a national level, including the amount of funding invested in flood defences, and inequality in the way those resources are invested across the country.

Such power imbalances make it all the more critical that flood-affected communities find ways to come together and share their experiences and find ways to speak and act collectively: across their catchment, across their region, and at a national level.

Roll on August, and well done Lower Broughton and Radcliffe!

Radcliffesalford flood2

Dr Sophie King is Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield’s Urban Institute and carried out research into community resilience to flooding in 2016 with the support of local residents and The Broughton Trust