Insights from the BRIC Project Closing Conference – March 2023, Plymouth

Project Support Officer Emily Roach Osborne reflects on the approach and learnings of the BRIC project in engaging communities and effectively, collaboratively improving climate resilience in communities.

Communities Prepared attended the Social Innovation for Climate Resilience conference in Plymouth on Wednesday 15th of March. This conclusion of the two-year Building Resilience in Communities project across the UK and France showcased the eight different programmes developed in this time, all of which sought to engage with local communities in preparing for, managing, and recovering from flooding. We were grateful to be able to attend and exhibit at what was a very interesting, informative and diverse event, and for our Programme Manager Hannah Baker to both contribute a keynote speech on the Communities Prepared programme and sit as part of a panel discussing the challenges, surprises and insights encountered when engaging communities. In her keynote speech, Hannah took the opportunity to introduce attendees to Communities Prepared and our approach, sharing examples of where and how we’ve been working to date. Hannah set out some of our learnings from engaging communities and professionals across England, and how we’re applying these to our future plans.

Communities Prepared Programme Manager Hannah Baker giving a keynote speech on Communities Prepared

     One of the biggest insights from the conference was hearing of the methods, challenges and approaches to engaging communities across the programme given frustrations with communication, information and funding, as well as complex and varying vulnerabilities, and broader contexts of the COVID pandemic, the cost of living crisis and climate change. How do we understand and meet the needs of the communities in a way that empowers them given these factors? How can we be of meaningful use to them?

     Many of the projects tackled this through creating space for listening. Be that through facilitated forums between the public and project stakeholders such as local councils, services and businesses or through storytelling, mapping and embodied walking exercises in which people shared their experiences, or creative, visualising activities. Opportunities for communities to meet and contribute to collective memory with photography projects through Thames 21’s Canvey Island pilot and to have their emotions heard (Authie Valley, France), as well as celebrate their communities in local festivals in (Plymouth, UK) and Aulne Valley, France) were powerful examples of what is meaningful to communities who have experienced flooding and are looking to heal and strengthen their resilience.

Hannah and Emily observing a presentation given in French. The conference was delivered in both English and French, with live translation throughout the day. Image courtesy of Amy Stanford Photography

     To this end, intersectionality was also discussed by Samuel Rufat of Institut Universitaire de France as a means of effectively capturing and meeting the complexity of needs within communities and demonstrates how new frameworks of understanding can inform community resilience. New technologies were also discussed by Ogoxe, a company based in France that seeks to provide reliable, accessible, free information on weather and related emergency risks, demonstrating the scope and potential of modern technology in democratising information in order to empower the public, and how funding can make this possible.

     This conference was an opportunity to consider what it means to meaningfully engage a community in a way that builds trust and respects the cost of volunteering for people within such communities during times of crisis. Some useful publications from the conference are listed below with weblinks for further insight into emergency planning, community engagement and crisis recovery. It was raised that projects like BRIC ideally need longer to achieve their objectives, and for this reason it is commendable what BRIC has achieved and learned given the impact of broader social issues like the COVID-19 pandemic and cost of living crisis. Whilst the broader project is now coming to a close, both the website and some of the pilots will stay active. Visit the BRIC website and explore the pilot sites of the project to learn more about their collaborative approach to engagement.


Flood Expo 2022

This September we’re excited to again be taking part in the Flood Expo. Held at NEC Birmingham from 14th-15th September, this is Europe’s leading Flood Management event; providing the public with an opportunity to interact with flood professionals, local authorities and communities all in one place, for free. We look forward to attending and engaging with the flood sector and wider public, as well as enhancing our knowledge and understanding of the latest technologies, services and strategies available to help predict, prevent and manage flooding.

What is most special for us about Flood Expo 2022 is the brand new -and first of its kind- Community Flood Zone. This initiative has been developed by Communities Prepared and other flood specialists with the explicit aim of centring the public in the discussion around flooding. It is a space to come with your questions, concerns and needs and help to steer the priorities of the flood services sector and the wider conversation around flooding. The Community Flood Zone will also include :

  • Mary Dhonau – answering questions and giving practical flood preparation advice using the flood mobile: a ‘flood house on wheels’ that demonstrates various property-level adaptations that can reduce the impact of flooding in your homes and business buildings. Have a look at her website ahead of the Expo.
  • Flood Re – answering questions and offering advice regarding affordable insurance options and the Build Back Better scheme for those who experience flooding in their homes. Have a look at their website ahead of the Expo.

Attending from our team is Richard Hood, Senior Project Officer with Communities Prepared. Richard is part of the programme’s delivery team, focusing on community development and training. He brings with him specialist knowledge in flood resilience and management, water rescue operations, incident management and operational procedures. He will be available to discuss your concerns and receive your questions on our Community Flood Zone stand throughout the Expo. Beyond this, insight and learning will be high on the agenda with a seminar programme packed with expert-led sessions, panels and demonstrations covering topics from flood reduction to property level flood protection, and a presentation from ITV Meteorologist and trusted voice on climate change, Laura Tobin. Richard will be taking part in a panel discussion as part of the seminar programme too; more details on this to follow.

If you or your community have been affected by flooding, we urge you come to and speak with us at the Community Flood Zone. Your contribution to the conversation is vitally important, and will enable us to continue to develop this initiative beyond this year. The entire Expo is free to attend and both welcomes and depends upon the engagement with the public, so please join us!

Follow the link to the Flood Expo website to sign up for free and see what’s in store, and please share the event with anyone you feel would benefit from it. The venue is wheelchair accessible, easily accessible by train or car and has extensive car parking facilities that you can pre-book. Feel free to contact us with any questions ahead of the event.

Spontaneous volunteering during the Pandemic

Back in June last year I wrote a blog for Communities Prepared about my research into volunteers in disasters after being awarded a Churchill Fellowship.  My report has since been published in September and can be found here.

I have now been commissioned to undertake further research into the work of spontaneous volunteer groups across the United Kingdom by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust as part of their Covid-19 Action Fund which provides grants for Churchill Fellows to run projects combatting the effects of Covid-19 in all areas of society. 

The UK government definition categorises spontaneous volunteers as “individuals who are unaffiliated with existing official response organisations, yet, without extensive prep planning are motivated to provide unpaid support to the response and /or recovery to emergencies.”

Through disasters such as the Grenfell Tower Fire and many flooding incidents over the last decade, groups have been formed in the community by concerned individuals who want to help others in need. Through the pandemic, thousands of spontaneous volunteers have come forward to support their communities, forming Mutual Aid and COVID-19 support groups.

Often, they have faced barriers and issues that have prevented them working as effectively as they could. New Local’s report Communities vs. Coronavirus: The Rise of Mutual Aid examines some of these challenges, including “how best to structure themselves” and “managing their relationships with local government.”

In examples where the authorities work with volunteer groups, the combination of effort maximises the benefits to those in need.

My research and experience working with these spontaneous volunteer groups in Eastleigh, Hampshire (where I am the Resilience Manager), have demonstrated the impact of a joint effort. In examples where the authorities work with volunteer groups, the combination of effort maximises the benefits to those in need.

Here we worked with three spontaneous volunteer groups, which were formed in direct response to the pandemic. They have acted as the delivery arm of our local response centre, providing help and support to both those Clinically Extremely Vulnerable people who were shielding, and also to those who were having to self-isolate due to catching the virus or being a close contact. We have hundreds of volunteers doing shopping, collecting prescriptions, dog walking, befriending over the phone and doing regular checks on those in need of support. It has been and continues to be a fantastic effort by many members of the local community.

I am therefore calling to all spontaneous volunteer groups in the UK to ask for their help by completing a simple survey on behalf of their local group. This survey looks at how the groups were formed, their role and the work they have undertaken, how they are led, their interactions with the statutory authorities and considerations for their future post COVID-19.

I am conducing this survey through my work with Eastleigh Borough Council which ensures therefore that all data will be kept securely and used appropriately during the course of the research.

You can find the survey here on my blog:

Alternatively, please email and I can send you a copy.

Melvin Hartley
Melvin Hartley is Safety & Resilience manager at Eastleigh Borough Council and Community Resilience lead for Hampshire and IOW Local Resilience Forum. Following a career with Bedfordshire Police and in community safety, he was part of the London Borough of Southwark’s management team for the 2012 Olympics response. 

An Emergency Response Plan in action

We caught up with Community Emergency Volunteer, John Roe, who, as Coordinator during the COVID-19 emergency response, led on the support efforts for the village of Great Barton. Here, he takes us through the details of their Emergency Plan and how he and his team of volunteers put this into action.

Can you tell us about your role in the community?

Normally I take the lead for the Great Barton Emergency Response Plan, heading up the Volunteer Team for the village, which is situated near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. When we triggered our plan, in response to COVID-19, I undertook the Coordinators role.

Great Barton is a diverse village with 947 households, spread over a large rural area. Many of our residents are retired and there can be a reluctancy from the community to ask for help, with many opting to put others before their own needs.

In 2003 I was approached to help with the task of creating an emergency plan for the village that would respond to the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. There were seven other local volunteers who supported this task. Between us we brought a good level of professional experience with backgrounds in power network distribution and telecommunication resiliency.

As part of the plan, we created an emergency risk assessment, which laid out the vulnerability levels of 50 different types of risk. It included high probability events such as blizzards, hurricanes and radiation, but did not extend to pandemics at this stage.

Can you explain how you have structured your group?

As a large rural village, it is vital that our volunteers are able to reach households easily on foot during an emergency, when there may be a loss of power and/or communication. In response to this, we divided the village into 21 sectors to form a ‘Community Cascade Network.’ Each sector covers a relatively small geographical area with their own Main and Reserve Local Coordinator who look after approximately 50 properties between them. Each sector has a property list with addresses. A telephone/courier fan-out procedure is in place to provide a communication conduit if needed.

Our emergency plan is structured around 3 volunteer groups:

The Great Barton Emergency Plan is structured around 3 volunteer groups

Can you discuss how your group adapted to meet the challenges of COVID-19?

Early online conversations through our village’s Facebook group, (relayed to me by my daughter) highlighted the community’s awareness of what was happening. This really gave me the confidence to trigger our plan on 16th March (with the agreement of the Parish and West Suffolk Councils).

It was obvious that because of social distancing, the Operations Team would have to perform in isolation from one another, directed by the Coordinator. Fortunately, we had already in place a telephone exchange line number, which was diverted to me as the Coordinator, but could be diverted to any member of our Operations Team at any time if needed. Adapting to the demands of COVID-19 was a challenge, but because I have lived in the village for many years and maintained our plan, I had developed a rapport with the community. Alongside my professional experience, I had the confidence I could do it.

A letter was delivered on the 17th March to all households, offering help to people in the community who had lost their support structure, were self-isolating as a result of the virus or were feeling isolated. We decided that our support efforts would be focused on the vulnerable and isolated members of our community, organising prescriptions, food deliveries etc. and we put out a request for additional volunteers to get involved.

It was important that the new volunteers were honest about what they could or could not do in their response effort (for example, if they had reduced capacity due to childcare). We changed our Facebook group from ‘Great Barton Neighbourhood Watch’ to ‘Great Barton Emergency Response Group Volunteers’ and put up a post calling for volunteers. We had 92 new volunteers through this as a result, which was just brilliant. Assigning the volunteer to their local sector meant that they would know the residents and could build on this rapport.

Other efforts included:

Support services of the Great Barton Emergency Response Group Volunteers

What would you say are some of the personal qualities and skills that make an effective group Coordinator?

You have to be a people-person and think of others first; it is important to be mindful of the whole picture. Recognise that you have a whole team of volunteers wanting to be part of the decision-making process and want their voices heard. Other key skills are organisation, the ability to identify priorities as well as delegation.

There were times when my volunteers were understandably apprehensive about the tasks we were carrying out in the community during this challenging time. It was crucial that I reassured them. I did so by relaying key government information, communicating my confidence in them, as well as being clear and decisive in my role as their Coordinator.

Recognise that you have a whole team of volunteers wanting to be part of the decision-making process and want their voices heard.

What has been a key learning experience for you?

If you want help, always go out and ask for it. If you explain clearly what you are asking people to volunteer for and where they fit in, they will support you. Keep in regular contact with them, so they will know they have a valued role to play. We are so lucky to have this in place.

I am very proud of the village for the way it has supported its residents during this extremely difficult time.  

John and The Great Barton Emergency Response Volunteer Team have not had a logged COVID-19 related support request since the 8th June and have been able to take some much-deserved rest.

Volunteer, John Roe, who takes the lead for the Great Barton Emergency Response Plan.

Alongside all things community resilience, John enjoys DIY, travel, rambling, bird watching, and photography.

Responding to Coronavirus: Communities Prepared launches Public Health Volunteer training

With the world battling the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic and increasing levels of fear and uncertainty, harnessing the power of community action has never been more important. Across the world communities are adapting in the face of adversity. Many existing flood and emergency volunteer groups have extended their services to offer support to people self-isolating and new groups have formed to assist the most vulnerable with accessing food and medical supplies and reducing isolation.  In response to this, Communities Prepared has developed training resources to help Community Emergency Volunteers and spontaneous local groups better understand public health emergencies and their potential role in supporting community resilience at this time.

To ensure we provide the most up to date information that is reflective of latest government guidance on Covid-19 and responds to the needs of community volunteer groups, we will make periodical updates to our public health training module and cue card.

Our latest update was made on 30/03/2020 to reflect latest government guidance, the launch of the NHS volunteering programme and to incorporate feedback from key partner organisations. You can see the marked changes to the presentation and the cue card or simply download via the buttons above.

These resources have been designed to be used by anyone keen to volunteer and support vulnerable members of their community during a public health emergency such as the current Covid-19 pandemic. The information provided is reflective of the wider context, but can be adapted and tailored by volunteers and groups for use in their own community.

For any questions on these updates, please get in touch at

Course objectives

  • What is a public health emergency
  • Types of public health emergency
    • Pandemics
    • Temperature extremes
    • Hazardous chemical or bacteria release
    • Local communicable disease
  • Who does what in a public health emergency
  • Your role before a public health emergency
  • Your role during a public health emergency
  • Your role after a public health emergency
  • Safety during a public health emergency
  • Triggering a call out
  • Coronavirus pre-briefing

These materials are a clear, concise and informative way that community resilience and knowledge is developed, both for an event such as COVID-19 that we are currently facing, but also future events we will encounter with, for example, changing climates and the knock-on effects on communities, large and small.

Dr Tony Robertson, Lecturer in Social Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Stirling

Thank you to the University of Stirling’s Extremes in Science and Society research programme for helping shape the development of this public health module

The module has been invaluable in our community response to the ongoing public health emergency – it’s helped to inform both Councillors and volunteers, to make sure that people are acting safely and are getting the information they need to support each other.

Councillor Dom Newton, Leader of Bradford on Avon Town Council

Contact us to find out about online training sessions with one of our training officers or call our non-emergency advice line on 0117 910 3930 if you have any questions. You can download the training pack for your own use and adapt it accordingly.

Hear Senior Project Officer for the programme, Paul Robertson, delivering the training as a webinar to volunteers in Wiltshire. Listen here.

SSEN funding and assistance helps keep ‘Communities Prepared’ across Dorset and Wiltshire

Through SSEN’s Resilient Communities Fund (RCF), over £30,000 has been awarded to Groundwork South to deliver Communities Prepared to communities within a two-year period, working with volunteer groups to build community resilience to floods and other severe weather emergencies; a priority in the context of climate emergency. In-person training, a first-of-its-kind online resilience hub and an advice line are all features of the support package on offer to communities, with resources designed to be adaptable across multiple emergencies, including snow, fire and utilities failure.

Groundwork South is a not-for-profit organisation supporting communities and working with a range of partners to create social, economic and environmental improvements by enabling both communities and individuals across the south of England to make positive changes to their lives and neighbourhoods. Communities Prepared is one of its flagship projects, providing people around the country with the knowledge and tools to effectively prepare for, respond to and recover from, severe weather emergencies, while strengthening working relationships with the emergency services and other key local stakeholders.

Across Dorset and Wiltshire, the programme has identified fifteen communities with a combined population of over 81,000, who will be invited to take part in locally held workshops; there they will be introduced to the project, given an outline of the training on offer and the opportunity to network and share experiences. Presentations from key agencies and discussions on community resilience to floods and severe weather emergencies, volunteering opportunities and the support on offer from Communities Prepared will be part of the workshops, with coordinators and members of existing local flood warden, community emergency volunteer groups, community representatives from the surrounding parishes and emergency professionals in attendance.

Based on interest from coordinators, Communities Prepared will then run training sessions for individual groups, tailored to their needs and priorities. These will offer a choice of modules, covering a range of issues including flooding, snow, fire and utility failure, delivered with support from the Environment Agency and local Cat 1 and 2 responders.  The programme will also support groups in developing and testing their community emergency plans, and offer guidance on other issues such as fundraising, communications, risk assessments and insurance as required; this will be complemented by an online community resilience hub, offering free resources and advice.

The first workshop has already been delivered in Marlborough Town Hall, where SSEN’s Customer and Community Advisor, Helen Vass spoke to the attendees about SSEN’s ongoing work with local parish councils and community groups. She said:

“We were delighted to take part in this first workshop of many that aims to improve the resilience of local communities. SSEN has well established links with local organisations and parish councils, so to be able to bring those relationships and knowledge to other groups and locals residents helps us all to build stronger communities.”

Imogen Smith, a Senior Project Officer for Communities Prepared, helped organise the Marlborough workshop. She said:

“It was great to see so many community representatives and partners at our first SSEN funded event and such enthusiasm for community resilience. We look forward to rolling out our training and support to community volunteer groups across Wiltshire and Dorset over the next two years and thank SSEN for making this possible.”

In its latest round of annual grants – distributed in autumn 2019 – SSEN’s Resilient Communities Fund (RCF) has awarded over £185,000 to the successful applicants across its south network area. 

This most recent round of funding is the first where support has been extended to projects which achieve one of the following criteria:    

  • Vulnerability – to protect the welfare of vulnerable community members through enhancing their resilience and improving community participation and effectiveness.
  • Resilience for Emergency Events – to enhance community facilities, services and communication specifically to support the local response in the event of a significant emergency event.

In addition to the Resilient Communities Fund, SSEN has been working closely with local communities in the south east of England, helping them create resilience plans for emergencies, such as adverse weather and possible power disruption during winter storms. SSEN’s Resilient Communities Fund will re-open for applications in the spring of 2020. Guidelines and applications forms are available on SSEN’s website: with a full report on the fund available here –

Set up in 2014 as a two-year pilot scheme, SSEN has pledged to extend the fund to 2023 using a proportion of the income it receives from the industry regulator Ofgem in relation to its stakeholder engagement performance.

Scottish & Southern Electricity Networks

Communities Prepared provides training and support for volunteer groups on fundraising, which includes guidance on writing and submitting funding applications. For more information, please contact us. To download our introduction to community fundraising, please register here.

Staying safe: how to be prepared in the modern world

Have you ever considered what you would do in an emergency? How would you keep yourself and others safe? In today’s uncertain world, it’s important to understand the likelihood of an emergency occurring and how to be more prepared. Understanding risk and improving personal resilience is key to effective emergency preparedness and response. Daily emergencies happen worldwide, however hearing about them depends on your location and the circumstances of the emergency.

Staying Safe: How to be Prepared in the Modern World is a free online course produced by The Emergency Planning College (EPC) in partnership with Serco, an international service company that manages the EPC for and on behalf of the Cabinet Office Civil Contingencies Secretariat. The course has been designed to help individuals develop their own personal resilience and to understand the ‘what ifs’. This will allow them to plan how to deal with them, prioritise them and lessen the affects to the individual and their family. It is ideal if you want to understand the actual risks to you and your family, and how to be prepared in an emergency. Professionals who may be involved in community resilience planning may also find the course beneficial.

Topics covered include:

  • Identifying types of emergencies
  • Risks, hazards and threats assessment
  • Impact and consequences of emergencies
  • Developing emergency plans
  • Individually preparing for emergencies
  • Developing personal resilience

And by the end of the course, individuals will be able to:

  • Assess the likelihood of risks, hazards and threats
  • Develop the skills to evaluate actual risk and understand how you could react in an emergency
  • Explain the difference between threats vs hazards and intention vs capability
  • Explore information available, for use in your emergency plan
  • Improve your own personal resilience to become more prepared for disruption

The course can be found at

Click here for more information and for answers to course FAQs.


The EPC is the UK’s national centre for resilience learning and development services; we develop people, teams and organisations through training, exercising and consultancy.

Serco is an international service company, improving essential services for customers around the world.

By Beverley Griffiths, Executive Lead on the course

Beverley is Resilience Capability Lead with responsibility for management and development of the Crowd and Public Safety capability, also advises on Business Continuity, Risk, Security & Safety, Crisis Management.

The power of 3 words

Knowing exactly where an incident is taking place helps Emergency Services to respond efficiently and effectively. However, emergencies can happen anywhere, often in places not covered by an accurate or reliable street address and without a visible landmark or reliable mobile connection. This means call handlers are frequently provided with inaccurate or unreliable directions from 999 callers, which can limit their ability to dispatch crews quickly.

what3words is providing a solution. By converting GPS coordinates into words, the system has given every 3m square in the world a 3 word address. This means that unique combinations made of three random words can now be used to describe precise locations around the world. For example, ///labels.quiz.bound is a specific entrance to the The Lanes shopping centre in Carlisle, UK.

“Using words makes the passing and sharing of locations more human-friendly and reduces the likelihood for error.”

The free what3words app allows members of the public calling Emergency Services to find their current 3 word address and use it as a simple way to communicate exactly where an incident has taken, or is taking, place. Using words makes the passing and sharing of locations more human-friendly and reduces the likelihood for error. For instance, a person reporting a problem along the River Calder could tell West Yorkshire Police that it was taking place at “chin asleep pump” and response would be dispatched to that exact location. Services have also deployed the what3words app onto team devices so crews can use it to get to the precise 3m squares.

Over seventy Emergency Services in the UK are set-up to use what3words within their control room. Many control room software systems have also integrated what3words directly into their incident reporting software so 3 word addresses can be typed directly into the computer-aided dispatch system.

“In multi-agency operations, 3 word addresses allow different crews from Police, Fire and Ambulance to share accurate location information with ease.”

Many stories are emerging about how 3-word addresses are being used effectively within Emergency Response. The type of incident varies widely – from locating lost and vulnerable missing persons, to tackling rural fires, or ensuring that medical assistance is delivered to those with critical injuries quickly. In multi-agency operations, 3 word addresses allow different crews from Police, Fire and Ambulance to share accurate location information with ease, which has reportedly reduced the need for expensive resources like helicopters and search units to be deployed in many scenarios.

With more Emergency Services rolling out what3words these benefits are now being experienced across the country, making what3words an everyday part of emergency response today.

By Geordie Palmer, Business Development Director at what3words

Biography: Prior to what3words, Geordie founded and sold a travel tech company. He joined what3words and led their international expansion into Mongolia and South Africa. As Business Development Director he is responsible for partnerships in the emergency services sector.

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