My 76 year-old Mum and the 2007 Hull floods: five years of fallout

Kate Damiral was Climate Change Project Officer at NCVO from April 2011 until April 2013. Kate no longer works for NCVO but her posts have been archived on this site for reference.

Climate change is increasing the risk of flooding across the country. But do we really understand the full implications, especially for vulnerable members of the community? Here, Hull resident Kate explains what drove her Mum to finally ask for help from Age UK Hull five whole years after her home was flooded.

My Mum, a widow living alone, was 76 years old in 2007 when the floods hit Hull. Initially we thought she had been lucky because even though her street was badly flooded there was no visible water in her house.

But after a few days we noticed that the windows were steaming up badly and the whole ground floor felt damp and cold. We investigated to find water lapping underneath the floorboards: the house was completely flooded.

Mum was shocked but none of us really realised what was to come in the months and years to follow, or the effect it would have on her.

Homeless at 76

At first, Mum didn’t even realise she would have to move out. She came to live half the week at my house and half the week at my brother’s. She really didn’t like putting people out and just wanted to be at home. She never really unpacked and seemed to live out of a case. She thought she would be going home any day, but instead there were months of emotional hurdles to face:

  • The pure shock of being homeless at 76.
  • Seeing the destruction to her home – her safe haven – all the work that Dad had done like the stone fireplace he had built, now demolished – things that to her were memories that kept him close.
  • The feeling of being a burden to us, and intruding on our day-to-day family life – many tears were shed over this.
  • The loss of close friends and neighbours who’d moved to different areas, those little chats over a cuppa gone.
  • Living in a strange area, flitting between two households.
  • The pressure of making decisions about interior fittings for her home; kitchen, bathroom, colour schemes, carpets, flooring, light fittings. It sounds exciting, but for an elderly lady who was by now very low it was just extra, unwanted pressure.

Back home

Even going back home was difficult and emotional. Mum had a very smart new home, but it didn’t look like home to her any more. It was all different and strange; it smelt strange, with new paint, new carpet, strange kitchen and bathroom, and a new fireplace.  She couldn’t work the cooker, couldn’t switch the fire on, the hob was complicated. My Mum was elderly and didn’t welcome change.

Mum felt isolated as, when she moved back, many of the surrounding houses were still not finished and stood empty. One of her close neighbours was not coming back at all as she feared the floods happening again. I know this made Mum start to fear the rain.

One of Mum’s neighbours had never moved out at all. He said he hadn’t been flooded. But now Mum began to think he was just not letting on and she became convinced that she could hear water under her floor seeping in from next door. To this day she says she can hear her neighbour at night turning on the big fans used to dry the houses out. It’s probably his fridge-freezer, but Mum is sure it’s a fan.

Mum doesn’t like to leave her house for long these days, I think because she fears the loss of her home again and needs to be there to protect it. 2007 has left it’s mark on her to such an extent that, five years on, I’ve picked up the phone to ask for help from Age UK Hull.

Kate, Hull resident in conversation with Ann Smith, Age UK Hull

Read about the role Age UK Hull has taken in response to the floods or find out about NCVO’s vulnerable people and climate change project.

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