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Hull flood research – one year on

06/17/2008 12:03:39

Flood damage
Flood damage

One year on from the events of June 2007 and Hull residents are still trying to come to terms with the trauma of the floods, say researchers from Lancaster University.

While many people are still coping with the hardships of life in temporary accommodation and the difficulties of having their houses rebuilt, others have returned home but continue to experience high levels of stress and anxiety about the future.

Lancaster’s researchers have been following the experiences of 45 residents since October 2007 to learn more about how people’s lives are affected in the months and years following the flood.

By examining the longer-term recovery process in more detail, the project hopes to develop insights that can be used to help people recover from flooding more effectively in the future.

Residents taking part in the study keep a weekly diary of their experiences for 12-18 months, in which they write about their daily lives and record their thoughts of how the flood has affected them. The diarists also come together at regular intervals to share their experiences and to discuss what changes they would like to see being made to make people less vulnerable to flooding in future.

The idea of the diaries is based upon a previous study by Dr Maggie Mort, a member of the project team, who used them to investigate the community’s recovery from the 2001 Foot and Mouth Disease disaster in Cumbria..

Although the project is still in its early stages, the diaries and group discussions are already revealing the tremendous impact that the floods have had on people’s daily lives.

Rebecca Sims, the project’s researcher, said: “I am amazed at what people have had to go through since the floods. The interviews and diaries show that experiences like negotiating with insurance companies, project managing builders and living in temporary accommodation, such as caravans or rented housing, can cause huge amounts of stress and anxiety.

“Many people are feeling increasingly depressed and emotionally isolated and, for couples and families, this can be intensified by the strain that dealing with the floods can place on your personal relationships.

”The trouble is that the flood isn’t just something that’s in the past – these feelings can also persist when people finally return to their homes because they are afraid that they will be flooded again. For example, some people write in their diaries that they feel particularly anxious when there is heavy rain. Others feel that their house isn’t a home any more because, since the renovations, it doesn’t look or feel the way that it used to feel.

“There are some positive aspects, in that people talk about becoming closer to their neighbours, and there have been some great stories of people helping each other. But you can’t get away from the fact that many people feel that the floods have taken a year out of their lives, and that’s not something you can forget in a hurry.”

Since the study started last October, Lancaster’s researchers have been attending meetings and conferences to try and get residents’ stories across.

In March, the team submitted a report to the Pitt Review, the Government’s national inquiry into the floods.

The project also had its first steering group meeting where the researchers were able to begin working with representatives from a wide range of organisations including DEFRA, the Environment Agency and the Association of British Insurers.

According to Dr Will Medd, principal investigator on the project, the involvement of these stakeholder organisations is crucial in ensuring that the project is able to achieve its aim of getting residents’ voices heard and learning lessons for the future.

He said: “The personal and social impacts of the extended period of flood recovery that people experience are easy to overlook. The exciting thing about this project is that we’re trying to learn about flood recovery and how to build resilience by asking the real experts – the people who have experienced it first hand.

“By learning from people about the challenges they have faced, we are engaging with key agencies to try and learn the lessons for the future and contribute to building future resilience.”

Over the coming months, residents will keep writing their diaries and coming to group meetings to discuss the issues that are important to them, while a further steering group meeting is scheduled for September.

When the project ends in October 2009, the team will hold a conference to present its major findings. The anonymised diaries and interview material collected during the project will then be placed into an archive that can be used by the public and other researchers who are interested in learning about experiences of flood recovery in future.

The study - Flood, vulnerability and urban resilience: a real-time study of local recovery following the floods of June 2007 in Hull is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and The Environment Agency.