Lessons from a flood group – Thoughts from Hebden Bridge Flood Group.

Hebden Bridge is in the Calder Valley.  Rain runs down the steep sides of the valley, gains momentum and then hits the town centre. Homes and businesses have been flooded many times.  As a consequence, they have organised into an active Flood Volunteer group to deal with a very real threat of further flooding.

We have spoken to Andrew Entwistle, the Flood Warden at Hebden Bridge to capture what he believes are the challenges and lessons for other flood groups.

In essence it boils down to Relationships, Equipment and Enthusiasm, but please read on for more details.


Building relationships with key groups is essential.

Liaise with other flood groups

Seize every opportunity to liaise with other flood groups.  Working together and trading experiences is good for learning, but it also helps to maintain the energy and enthusiasm of the flood volunteers.

By speaking regularly, the wardens up and down the Calder Valley have developed trusting relationships.  This means when they get an alert from the Environment Agency and the ‘action’ starts, they trade information, get a sense of the scale and timing of the water and are able to respond more effectively.

Build your relationship with the Blue Light Services

Taking opportunities to develop a good relationship with the blue light services leads to greater understanding of each other’s roles and enables trust to develop.  Local people have local knowledge to help get resources to key points and to vulnerable people which the Emergency Services possibly won’t know.  “If I know that you guys are around, then I can use my team to do rescues”

Build your presence with the local community

The Hebden Bridge flood volunteers seize opportunities to get out and chat to local residents.  Over time, it has built trust and the Flood Wardens have become a ‘first point of contact’ with local residents for flooding matters.  It means that when a flooding situation occurs local residents know their flood team and trust that they will be in action to minimise damage.


Having the right equipment to help meet your particular local issues is crucial.  For Hebden Bridge their issue is flash flooding and their two key pieces of equipment are personal radios and Flexible Flood Blocks.  For other groups their pressure points might be different, so understanding your local needs is key.


In the Calder Valley mobile phone reception is patchy and in the 2015 Boxing Day floods the whole communication system collapsed leaving individual flood volunteers isolated.

The team have invested in personal radios which enable the team to co-ordinate their efforts.  The radios link to a central communication hub, which is manned by the council and which can also link to local cctv cameras.

Key information can be relayed, enabling priorities to be identified quickly and a speedier response is the result.  It also gives individual flood volunteers more security and back up for difficult situations.  The system also links to the Blue Light Services so help can be called on when needed.

Flexible Flood Blocks

Hebden Bridge volunteers primarily tackle flash flooding, so speed is of the essence to avoid damage to the town centre, which can be considerable.

The volunteers have found that using Flexible Flood Defence Blocks instead of sandbags gives them a real advantage. The blocks are collected from flood stores at key locations along the valley, thrown into the back of vans and then taken to where they are needed.  The blocks are easier to carry than sandbags and don’t need filling with sand, so local residents can get involved easily and they are much quicker to get into position.  They use the blocks as a barrier to divert the water to where it’s safe, so avoiding damage to houses and businesses.

Once the emergency is over, the blocks are washed off and stored until they are needed again.  No need to dispose of sandbags and no cost either!  The volunteers rate the blocks as they have enabled them to prevent damage to far more properties due to the speed of their response.  “The blocks have saved the day again!”


A great difficulty is that as time moves on from a major flood event, people start to become complacent and generally enthusiasm wanes.  However, when flooding happens in Hebden Bridge, it happens quickly and so everyone has to be prepared.

The leadership of the Flood Groups have to combat this complacency anyway that they can; by arranging meetings and training events for volunteers and by seizing opportunities to be visible in the local community.  This visibility is important for recruiting people into the team.  Ensuring good initial training and a supportive ‘buddy’ help people to become effective quickly.

Every flood group will face some common problems and some that are specific to their own area. Taking opportunities to learn from other groups can be so useful.  Andrew Entwistle can be contacted via The Hebden Bridge Flood Volunteers for advice.

So check out whether you have a Flood Volunteer group in your area and get in touch with them to either volunteer or let them know your experience of flooding, so they can be ready to help you if you need them.

If you don’t have a Flood Volunteer group and you’d like to start one or just help, then talk to the person responsible for flood response at the County Council.

Find out more about Flexible Flood Blocks.


Not all York businesses aware of their eligibility for £5000 Flood Resilience Grants. Act now as the deadline is the 31st May

We have been talking to residents and businesses in York that were affected by the terrible floods in December 2015.  What has surprised us is that a number of people, particularly local businesses, simply don’t know about the £5000 flood grant that is still available to them.

The government allocated funding so that each house or business affected by the floods can have flood protection and resilience products fitted to protect them from future flooding.

The deadline for applications is 31st May 2017 so time is running out and people should act now.


What will it provide?

Flood protection means products that help to keep flood water out of your property.  For example, fitting flood doors, flood barriers and SMART airbricks.

Flood resilience means making changes to help your property recover quickly if it is flooded again.  For example, raising electrical sockets from floor to waist level, changing the flooring to something that dries quickly or moving the boiler out of the danger zone.

Mary Dhonau (Queen of Floods) has an informative video on explaining the difference between flood protection and resilience and what measures are available.

You can watch it on YouTube  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wk_galVAsqE


Mary Dhonau explains flood resilience and flood resistance measures


What should people do now?

Homeowners and business owners must act now to take advantage of the £5000 grant.  They can apply online or download an application form at http://www.york.gov.uk/form/floodgrant.  Alternatively, they can contact the council and have an application form posted to them.

The property will need to be surveyed and the surveyor will produce a report giving recommendations for protecting the property.  We have been working with a local surveyor LHL (01904 690699 or nathan.hughes@lhlgroup.co.uk) but there will be other local surveyors who can also do this.

The surveyor’s report should then be submitted to the council with quotations from two companies who could complete the flood protection and resilience work.

The council will assess each application and they aim to approve the application within 5 days.

Householders and business owners then have a period of time to get the work completed and signed off.


Do people not know about the scheme or are they worried about what is involved?

We have spoken to local people (homeowners and local business owners) who don’t know that the Flood Grant scheme is available to them and that the deadline for applications is 31st May 2017.

There might also be people who think it is all going to be “a lot of trouble” and therefore they won’t bother.  Yes, there are some forms to be completed and some organising to get your survey and quotes from companies organised.  However, this needs to be balanced against the impact and trouble involved when flooding happens again.

The UK Flood Defence Alliance has brought together in one place a wide range of high quality, kite-marked flood protection products from a range of manufacturers.  This makes it easy for people to get the right products for their property.  Homeowners and businesses deal with one contact who will make sure that everything goes smoothly from ordering to installing.

For further information please call 0208 442 0872 or email info@ukfda.com.  Alternatively, you can visit our website on www.ukflooddefencealliance.com



Hebden Bridge Flood Warden presents case study at Carlisle Flood Expo

Andrew Entwistle is the Flood Warden at Hebden Bridge.  The steep hills of The Calder Valley cause fast running water and flash flooding.

Consequently, he and his team have a lot of experience of fighting floods and protecting property.  In this presentation he reflected on:

  • The Calder Valley and why it floods?
  • The history of flooding in The Calder Valley
  • Lessons learnt
  • Coping with Storm Angus
To access the slides from Andrew’s presentation please click this link.   Hebden Bridge Case Study Slides for Flood Expo 30.01.17

Lessons from a Flood Group – CERT(UK) share their experience

In December 2015 Kerryanne Wilde was standing knee deep in flood water and had what she called ‘her light bulb moment’.  She realised that Cumbria would not be able to cope with the devastation caused by Storm Desmond and put messages out on social media.  From here, the Eden Flood Volunteers was born.

Since then, the group and their volunteers supported 3,200 families in the first 10 days following Storm Desmond; received more than £2.2 million of donated goods; have worked more than 97,000 volunteer hours and received awards for their sterling efforts.  Recently, they have changed their name to Community Emergency Response Team (CERT UK) which reflects their new vision and the expanded role of the group.

What lessons have they learnt that are useful for other flood groups? 

1. Be clear on your goal.   

What do you want to achieve?  What is your remit?  Once you are clear, you can plan to achieve it.  An initial plan on A4 paper with headline actions got the Eden Flood volunteers off the ground.


2   Get your team in place – Fill your essential roles quickly

The Eden Flood Volunteers found that the following roles were absolutely key:

  • Head of Admin: to send messages out to team members and get information in
  • Head of Warehouse: to receive, store and dispatch items
  • Transport Manager: co-ordinating deliveries to people in need via the fleet of volunteers in their vehicles.
  • Volunteer Manager: co-ordinating volunteers and their offers of help
  • PR Manager: creating links and sending messages with national and local radio, newspapers and managing social media communication.


3. What you need changes  

Clothes and bedding were critical for the first 48 hours, but after that the needs changed and camping gas stoves, camping gas and slightly surprisingly, male toiletries became key.  As time progressed the needs changed again and again.


4.  Tell people what you need and don’t be afraid to turn things down.

The Eden Flood Volunteers made links with companies and supermarkets on social media.  They found that producing a ‘Daily Top 10 Requirements List’ and publishing it got the information to the people who could help.

They found that being specific with companies about what they needed them to donate was the best way of getting the right items, in the right quantity at the right time.

Equally, they found that it was important to say ‘No’ to some items.  Perhaps the need for that item had passed or the sell-by date was too short.  Saying ‘No thank you’ meant that they were not disposing of out of date food or clogging up their valuable warehouse space with items that weren’t a priority.


5.  Two types of need

Initially people’s needs are ‘hard’ needs – The need for food, possessions, shelter and housing.  As times goes on the needs become ‘softer’.  Softer doesn’t mean easier, because by then people are experiencing financial difficulties, mental health and anxiety issues and marital difficulties.

The softer needs are difficult.  The group have found that it is critical that people feel ‘listened to’ and this takes time.  Consequently, they have secured the services of a counsellor and forged links with other voluntary organisations so that they can put local residents in contact with the help that they need.


6.  Skills are in short supply 

Kerryanne reflected that solving food shortages was hard but do-able, but solving skills shortages was much harder.  As time progressed and the needs became softer, finding volunteers with good listening skills became key and they have found that ‘listening volunteers’ are in short supply.


7.  Be firm with volunteer organisations 

Good intentions can be a hindrance when the time isn’t right.  It is best to work out when you need a specific skill or type of support and call on it when the time is right.


8.  Don’t be bullied – stand up for your organisation & your goals 

From telling supermarkets and large stores what specific items they needed, turning donations away because they weren’t critical in that moment, to dealing with their local council, the group have had to stand up for themselves, their role and the people they serve.


9.  You can’t communicate enough 

The group communicated via social media to find out where vulnerable people were and what support they needed.  They have communicated with volunteers, with other voluntary organisations, potential donors, large companies about donations and lastly, the council.


10.  Adapt and change 

The Eden Flood Volunteers have realised with time that their original vision and goals were too narrow.  It has become clear that there are other situations where people need their support.

They have expanded their role and changed their name to the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT UK).  The reasons for people being in need might differ, but the support that they need is the same.  In addition to flood victims, CERT now also supports:

  • People who are fleeing domestic violence
  • People who have lost their home and belongings due to fire
  • People with special needs leaving hospital
  • People leaving prison
  • People who are homeless


And another thing ….

From speaking and working with the CERT UK team over recent months, I would add a note of my own.  They have clear sense of purpose; strong leadership and have created a cohesive team who believe passionately in the work that they are doing.  I would suggest that this has been key to all that they have achieved since the day that Kerryanne stood thigh deep in flood water.


If you would like to contact the CERT UK Team then their contact details are:

CERT (UK) – Community Emergency Response Team UK

Formally known as Eden Flood Volunteers Ltd 

Cumbria’s Noah’s Ark,  Skirsgill Highways Depot,  Penrith,  CUMBRIA,  CA10 2BL

Office: 01768-593190    www.certuk.org.uk      info@certuk.org.uk

Caring, Empathetic, Responsible, Trustworthy