How Age UK Hull tackled the floods of 2007

small_annsmithAnn Smith, Services Manager of Age UK Hull, recalls the floods of 2007 and what it meant for her organisation.

 

It had rained for days and days! When the floods began, the streets turned into rivers: many people were in total shock, although we all knew Hull was at risk as a low-lying city.

That first day, our bosses sent us home. I drove to my house in water that was half way up my car door – it was scary and took over two hours. My son was using his canoe to help people cross the street and my husband had to abandon his car several miles away and walk home.

Some of our staff couldn’t get home at all that night and had to stay with friends. A few colleagues found their own houses flooded and had to live in hotels then rented accommodation for months.

Back at work

The next morning, when the water had subsided, there were cars abandoned in the middle of the road and everything looked a mess from the debris, mud and rubbish left behind.

In the office, the phones started ringing immediately. The council wanted to know what facilities and services we had available. We were able to offer:

  • our restaurant
  • our sports hall for people flooded out of their homes
  • stock from our charity shop for those needing replacement clothes
  • and of course, advice and support for our service users.

Many older people still in their homes were afraid to go out, surrounded by water and not knowing what to do or where to turn for help.

Our insurance and trading arm were bombarded with calls about how to claim on policies. People were worried and upset, so it wasn’t just a question of giving information and advice, we needed to give support and reassurance as well. Some of the calls were heart-rending.

One caller’s story

One lady rang the office distraught. She was sitting on a wooden box in her living room with her wellies on, telling us the water had ruined everything. She was crying and confused: six months ago her husband of over 50 years had died. She was missing him terribly in this situation because her husband used to look after all their affairs.

She knew they had an insurance policy with Age UK and wanted to check it. We had to tell her the terrible news that the policy had run out four months previously, so she wasn’t covered.

Fortunately, we were able to help her get a few small grants for furniture, but it wasn’t enough to compensate for the loss of belongings, damage to her property and the upheaval she was facing whilst still grieving for her husband.

Over the next few days, we also supported people who were isolated and lonely by delivering small parcels of essential food in partnership with the city council.

Long-term impacts

The aftermath of the floods brought longer-term challenges for our service users.

  • Insurance: Home insurance has increased considerably and some companies are refusing to insure affected areas at all.  I feel the insurance companies should offer insurance without flood cover in this case and offer advice on flood proofing properties.
  • Cowboy builders: As there was so much demand for repair work, cowboys were coming in, charging too much and not carrying out the work properly, adding to stress levels. We tried to find a trading standards approved list to give out but it was very difficult to manage something like that and keep it updated.
  • Money: Our information and advice team have seen an increase in debt-related hardship problems from people who have never recovered from the floods in terms of replacing material possessions or completing repairs.
  • Health: 70% of people flooded out of their homes in Hull have reported health related problems. Top of the list were stress, anxiety and depression, followed by problems such as worsening asthma, arthritis and chest infections.

Read more about one 76 year-old’s experiences of the floods.

Community spirit rediscovered

One positive for the community was the way people came together and helped one another. There was wide-spread camaraderie which resulted in new friendships with neighbours.

Some vulnerable people could not have managed without the support of their friends and neighbours, particularly through the clean-up period. Perceptions changed because people pulled together in a crisis situation and it made a massive difference – community spirit was rediscovered.

Now what for Age UK Hull?

After the floods, our organisation took stock and decided how to ensure we would be better prepared for dealing with floods and other extreme situations in future.

We have become an emergency contact for the local councils and feature in their emergency recovery plans. It’s not just a question of having the right facilities: some older people felt the council in some cases had been unresponsive and unsupportive especially during the flood clear up, while voluntary sector organisations were praised for the support, advice and sympathy they gave along with practical advice.

We also want to find ways to ensure that older people get the right information when they need it including: what should they do, how to stay safe, what the risks are, their nearest shelter or doctor, how to switch off the gas and electricity, what equipment to stock up on.

One opportunity we actually turned down was the chance to join the 4×4 vehicle emergency teams to assist them with the recovery of older people. But after carrying out a risk assessment and taking advice, we decided not to take part as the risk to our own staff was too high.

Instead, we decided our staff were better placed supporting the facilities we have at our Healthy Living Centre, especially as we have a team of key people who live close to the building, able to open up at short notice. So we are playing to our strengths.

And of course our on-going activity programme and services will help older people stay connected and feeling well, which all adds to wider community resilience.

Ann Smith

Ann was a guest speaker at one of our climate change workshops for organisations supporting people on low incomes in Hull this autumn. Find out more about the NCVO vulnerable people and climate change project.

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