Chew Magna Flood Wardens: Q&A

Chew Magna was one of the first villages to benefit from support and training from the pilot phase of Communities Prepared. The group had already produced a flood plan, co-hosted a Resilience Day with Bath & North East Somerset Council (BANES) and the Environment Agency and received water safety training from Avon Fire & Rescue Service, but were keen to build on their knowledge with tailored training from Communities Prepared. In 2016 the village’s experienced team of flood wardens received free specialist training and support through the programme.  3 years on, we chat to Lynne Easton, Parish Councillor and Flood Warden Coordinator, to hear how they’ve been getting on.

How would you describe the village and community?

Chew Magna is a rural village and when it floods, not only is it completely cut off, but different parts of the village are cut off from each other. Many of us came to the village with young families and have lived here ever since, so a good proportion are older but still active and keen to continue to engage in the community.

What would you say are the risks that Chew Magna faces?

Our village is prone to flooding, particularly flash flooding. 2012 was a very bad year. Properties were flooded and people had to leave their homes while they were dried out and redecorated; some people were out for nearly a year, so that was quite grim. The Winford Brook can rise in an hour, so it has to be a very quick response. It’s no use having people coming from outside or from across the other sides of the village to help, which is why we set up a system of neighbourhood wardens. The wardens look after the residents of their area – a bonus being that they already know their neighbours well.

I joined the parish council in 2015, and (with the Chew Valley Flood Forum) wrote the flood plan as well as setting up the flood warden group. We held a resilience day with the Environment Agency and BANES and many local residents came out – we showed people how to put the flood boards up and tested them. The fire service came along too. It was the beginning of the parish becoming self-sufficient and working in their neighbourhood groups. This neighbourhood organisation meant that privacy could be maintained and concerns about house prices minimised. We have a resilience day every year, which is a great opportunity to get together and chat about any local issues, as well as look at more long-term mitigation such as Natural Flood Management.

Chew Magna Flood Wardens

It had been so long since the village had flooded. People were desperate to help in any way they could but they didn’t know how.

How would you describe your preparedness for floods prior to any training or support?

Going back to 2012, I think people didn’t know what to do. I think there had previously been wardens but it had been so long since the village had flooded and there was really no one around to direct anything. People were desperate to help in any way they could but they didn’t know how. It was clear that we needed to coordinate the professional and volunteer support for the rapid response needed for our catchment area. When I became Coordinator, my role was to establish a team of neighbourhood wardens for each of the ten zones in the village and to develop a flood plan.

Tell us a bit about the support you received from Communities Prepared

The training we received happened to be just after a couple of days of really bad flooding caused by Storm Angus, closing two primary schools and resulting in some houses being evacuated.

At the end of the training we had a whole session evaluating our response and planning forwards. It was so helpful that the Communities Prepared team could be so flexible and so skilled to be able to do that. It was terrific. I was so impressed. We had been on flood alert for so long that people were quite hypothermic and, because we hadn’t built in any kind of scheduling, everybody was on duty for up to 14 hours without a break. During the session we identified the need to build in a ‘shift’ system. We also came up with the idea of a roving coordinator – a person to go out and about while the coordinator is in the Control Room. Really good things came out of the training from Communities Prepared – it was so helpful.

I feel the training has made the wardens more confident and has helped them to take their role even more seriously and be proud of it; t’s given credibility to the vital work they do .

I feel the training has made the wardens more confident and has helped them to take their role even more seriously and be proud of it; it’s given credibility to the vital work they do. The wardens have become more skilled and have much more autonomy now; they know their areas so well and are highly competent.

Have you developed or done anything since the training?

In the village, we have the river on one side and the brook on the other and we’ve got a team leader for each side, so there’s always somebody who’s the go-to person. We’ve also set up a wider network of emergency volunteers now who manage their own areas of the village.

Because the Communities Prepared training had been so successful, we went on to do some first aid training and issued a first aid kit to each team leader so that each side of the village has supplies. Kits were also distributed to other areas of the village which don’t flood but still have a need during other emergencies, such as power cuts. After the 2016 floods we had a horrendously long power cut, which was actually even more damaging.

We have a designated emergency flood phone, which is the single point of contact for the emergency services as well as the wardens. Everybody knows what’s going on and it’s so much safer now because there’s no delay. The wardens also use WhatsApp to communicate with each other.

What does community resilience mean to you?

I think resilience means you don’t take control, but you enable people to do things themselves with your support. We hope that everyone will become personally resilient so that what we’re doing is supporting and facilitating them rather than doing things for them.  The wardens are highly competent and in turn the residents they support are growing in confidence. When people move into the area, they come to the resilience day to meet their wardens and become part of it. Further progress in autonomy came when a telemetry device was installed in the Winford Brook two years ago.  This sends information directly to over 50 people including residents, local schools, the EA and BANES Council.

People come to us as wardens and say, “thank you, I feel much safer with you around.”

How would you describe your preparedness for floods since the training?

Everybody is more prepared. They come out, they’re in their gear, they know how to deal with the flood boards, and are first aid trained. We also go out into the community more. For example, we go out leaf clearing twice in the autumn to keep the drains clear and the roads free from flooding. The wardens have passed on their training to other people in the village, who are keen to help out. The whole village has become much more aware of what needs to be done. The training gives people confidence to take action and other residents have confidence that you know what you’re doing and so it builds that trust. People come to us as wardens and say, “thank you, I feel much safer with you around.”

The Chew Magna group won an EA Project Excellence award (Building resilience category) for their work in March 2017.

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