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Flood Resilient Mindsets

Ed Barsley

Founder of ‘The Environmental Design Studio’ and ‘Hazard + Hope’ and author of ‘Retrofitting for Flood Resilience: A Guide to Building & Community Design’

Over the years of working with and hearing from communities that have been flooded I’m continually reminded that flood water doesn’t just do damage to the bricks and mortar of buildings, but that it can and does have a deep and lasting impact on both the physical and psychology health of the people themselves.

There are however many inspiring examples of ways in which people have adapted their property’s and practices to be more flood resilient. We’ve featured a number of these in the ‘Our Flood Resilient Home’ and ‘Our Flood Resilient Business’ episodes of Hazard + Hope.

We heard from Claire in York about how important connections with and support from her neighbours has been. Whether it’s discussing collective adaptation strategies before a flood, reacting and resource sharing during the event, or just being there after it to offer emotional support at times when the recovery process can be overwhelming.

I myself have noticed throughout the filming of the series just how much of a positive influence on people’s well-being that Property Flood Resilience (PFR) can have, and we heard this from Katie in episode two of ‘Our Flood Resilient Home’.

‘It’s definitely taken a lot of the worry away… you do still get worried because you can't see the future… but it's not half as much… you can't completely put it out of your mind... you still remember what happened that day, but it doesn't feel as bad. It's like you've made really positive steps to make the house resilient and that for your mental well-being is big, definitely.’

As Katie alludes to, there is always going to be a degree of residual risk wherever you live when it comes to flooding. You don't just have to be near a river or the sea to be exposed to or vulnerable to flooding and unfortunately in many places, those flood waters will come again. But, there are many things we can do to drastically alter the vulnerability of our properties to the impacts of flooding and change the outcomes and consequences that ensue.

‘It was our best flood yet’ … this was not quite what I was expecting to hear when asking Sue about how the most recent flood had affected her home. The sentiment was one of pride and determination that their property flood resilience strategy had worked and Sue went on to say how genuinely ‘euphoric’ she’d felt, because on this occasion they had remained in control.

This sensation of control was in stark contrast to what Sue and her family had experienced during their two previous floods. On each occasion, it had taken them almost 10 months to recover, and their family had had to go through the arduous and energy sapping process of flood recovery and the reinstatement of their home. But, after that second flood, they decided to have their property put back in a way that would be more flood resilient, by using a combination of flood resistance measures (such as flood boards and non-return valves) and flood recoverable materials. The result when the next flood came was that feeling of ‘control’ that Sue spoke of and rather than 10 months out of their home and huge amounts of damage, they didn’t have to leave the property at all, and the only cost of repair was a pot of varnish for the skirting boards.

These real-life success stories of Property Flood Resilience (PFR) in action are vital to share and be aware of, as if our mindsets only focus on and around the doom and gloom that floods can cause then we’ll be caught in a perpetual loop of damage and despair.

For those reading this that would like to adapt their property to be more flood resilient, the crucial thing to remember is that any strategy needs to be site specific. When it comes to HOW you can adapt, I’d recommend following the PFR process as set out in the Code of Practice for Property Flood Resilience. That way, your flood risk context and property setup can all be considered within the design and specification of your particular adaptation strategy. A crucial part of this is also that yours and/or the end-users own ‘preferences’ are factored into the decision-making process as, ultimately the success of any PFR approach lies with the way that we operate, manage and maintain the measures over time. A great example of the ethos, routine and mindset that this kind of approach requires can be seen in how Sue and her family have adapted their home to be more flood resilient and are able to feel in more control of the situation and consequences. I do hope many more of us can be inspired to adapt and foster these kinds of flood resilient mindsets.