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