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.


Flexible Flood Defence Blocks - defend against flooding

The advantages of sandbag alternatives

The flood warnings have been posted,  you are at risk of flooding so what do you do to protect your home or business?  You need to protect the entry points and redirect the flow of water where you can.
Traditionally, sandbags have been used in an attempt to do this.  They are only partially effective and the advantages of sandbag alternatives should render the traditional sandbag a thing of the past.  Modern sandbag alternatives are the way forward. This article explains the different types of sandbag alternatives that are available and their advantages over traditional sandbags.


How do sandbag alternatives work?

Some sandbag alternatives are filled with gel. Once laid in position each bag will absorb approximately 20 litres of water and inflate becoming a barrier against flood water. Smaller strips of the sandbag alternative can be used to create a watertight seal around a door and larger strips of the sandbag alternative can be used to direct flood water.
Place them where you need them, wet them to get them to inflate and then they’re ready to protect your property.
Other sandbag alternatives look like flat discs but they fit together to form an effective barrier against flood water wherever you need them. They are excellent for creating a barrier or directing flood water away from vulnerable areas.


Why are they better than traditional sandbags?

There are many advantages to using sandbag alternatives.

  • Speed and ease of use: Sandbag alternatives are light and therefore easy to move into the place where you need them. You move them when they are dry which makes them light and easy to handle. Sandbags ideally need two people to fill a them and it is heavy labour.  Many a back has been put out in the process!  Sandbags will then weigh approximately 30 lbs and will be need to be carried or dragged to where you need them.
  • Storage: Sandbag alternatives can be easily stored. The bag type are stored dry and being light can be easily stacked and don’t take up too much room.  The block type are reusable and can be cleaned off, stacked and stored ready for subsequent use. Traditional sandbags however, are the absolute opposite of this.  Large quantities of sand need to be stored, it’s cumbersome, can be messy and takes up a lot of space.
  • Reuse: some sandbag alternatives can be dried and re-used. Traditional sandbags are extremely heavy because they’re full of wet sand.  If you attempt to dry them it is a slow process and often the actual sandbag splits and the wet sand escapes creating mess.
  • Disposal: If the sandbag alternative has been filled with clean safe water then it does not absorb contaminated flood water and can be disposed of safely into the environment. However, traditional sandbags will absorb the flood water, including any contaminants and therefore must be disposed of safely.  There is a tax of £64/ton on disposal of used sandbags on top of the costs of transporting them.  It can work out to be quite expensive!
  • Environmentally friendly: The sandbag alternatives that we supply are filled with environmentally friendly super absorbent material. This means that when the threat of flooding has passed the bag can be split and the contents safely released into the soil for easy disposal.



Which sandbag alternatives do you recommend?

We supply both types of sandbag alternative – gel filled and flexible blocks, so that you can choose which you would prefer.

The Hydrosnake: Is a gel filled sandbag alternative and provides a barrier to direct water away from your property.  Use them to protect doors, vents, furniture and equipment.


The Hydrosack: can be moved to where you need it and then inflated with clean water.  They absorb up to 20 litres of water and inflate to create a barrier to protect the entry points to your property from flood water.


Eco Blocks:  provides a flexible yet robust defence against running water.They can be re-used, and will last for years. After use, they can be power-washed and stored, ready to be used again., Flexible Flood Defence Blocks in action
Flexible Flood Defence Blocks in action
The blocks have been used successfully at Hebden Bridge, Cumbria on many occasions  to protect the town centre.  “Once the blocks were in place there was an 80% drop in the water runoff.  The blocks saved the day again!” Andrew Entwistle, Hebden Bridge Flood Warden.


We are the UK Flood Defence Alliance.  We have brought together in one place a selection of  the highest quality flood defence products, from a range of different manufacturers.  This makes it easier for you to find the most suitable products to protect your property. More information can be found on our website  or you can contact us directly on 020 8442 0872 or by emailing info@ukfda.com.  We are always happy to help.