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How the quality of recovery goes on to shape the quality of preparation for future floods

Professor Maggie Mort and Dr Alison Lloyd Williams

Department of Sociology, Lancaster University, UK

‘Flood, vulnerability and urban resilience: a real-time study of local recovery following the floods of June 2007 in Hull’, focused on the process of recovering from flooding and the impact that recovery process can have on building future resilience. This research project involved intensive engagement from the start with flood-affected families who provided weekly ‘recovery diaries’ to detail the effects that the floods had on their lives, but also the specific measures involved in project managing the renovation of their homes. This was the first time that the flood recovery process had been ‘captured’ in this level of detail (Medd et al. 2014).

i) Far from showing a steady process of improvement, flood recovery is punctuated by a distinct series of ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ closely tied with events taking place in a person’s life, and flood-affected people’s experiences of the different agencies and private sector companies involved in the recovery process (e.g. loss adjusters, builders, insurance companies, but also agencies such as the local authority, Environment Agency etc).

ii) ‘Double trauma’ occurs when the first disaster (the flood) is compounded by a secondary disaster in the form of poor treatment from the agencies and companies that are supposed to be helping with the recovery. The research identified a flood ‘recovery gap’: between the legally defined contingency arrangements provided for the affected community by public authorities and agencies, and the less well-defined services provided by the private sector (e.g. insurance, building industry).

The diaries showed how householders are often left needing to negotiate with the private sector (e.g. builders, insurers) to get the best deal they can, and many people do not understand this, or have the requisite skills, and in any case are at their most vulnerable. At a high level, the Government’s Civil Contingencies Secretariat has a tradition of focusing on the acute phase, and at a more local level responders must focus on this phase, yet the quality of the recovery process itself goes on to shape the quality of preparation for the next flood. In a context of frequent flooding this relationship between recovery and preparedness becomes ever more important.

Few accounts of flooding and flood recovery include the perspectives of children and young people and the role that they play before, during and after a flood. This neglect is particularly problematic given the increasing policy emphasis on building individual and community resilience as a strategy for coping with floods. It also shows the ever greater need to recognise the right of children and young people to have a say in decisions that affect their lives, as specified in Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

A child's photograph of a skip full of personal possessions after flooding. Image courtesy of ESRC Children, Young People and Flooding Research Project, Lancaster University

i) Children have specific flood experiences that need to be understood as such. The disruption caused by flooding reveals and produces new – and sometimes hidden – vulnerabilities and forms of resilience for the children, young people and their families.

ii) Paying attention to flood-affected children’s insights can enhance our understanding of how to build resilience in practice. Children and young people’s participation is critical to more effective flood risk management and community flood resilience.

It is not immediately obvious who is affected by a disaster. In-depth exploration of the work which goes on within affected households can better identify those whose experiences may be otherwise overlooked. For example, children and young people may be missing from accounts of flood recovery due to the assumption that, since they are not homeowners/householders and do not tend to manage builders or insurance claims, they are peripheral to the recovery process. Yet we found that this is not the case, as children showed acute awareness of recovery measures within their homes, schools and communities.

Sally was aged nine at the time of the flood and she and her family ended up living in a caravan for over a year whilst the repairs were carried out to her home. She found preparing for her Year 6 SATs difficult in the restricted space of the caravan: ‘It was stressful because I was scared because I thought I was going to get a real low score’.

Headteacher, Marilyn, was grappling with the effects of the flood both in her workplace and her home: In addition to her regular responsibilities as headteacher, Marilyn was involved in ‘flood work’ during what she described as two traumatic years because the school was left badly damaged after the disaster. In addition to overseeing the renovation of the buildings and arranging for the replacement of all the damaged furniture and classroom resources, Marilyn had to organise for the children to be taught on alternative premises, including arranging transport for this.

What we learned from working in Hull led us to develop the Children, Young People and Flooding project (Mort et al 2016) where we co-researched with two groups of flood-affected children and young people (aged 6-15). In rural South Ferriby (Humberside) homes, farms and businesses were flooded by a storm/tidal surge that travelled 3km inland in darkness in December 2013. Using creative arts based methods, we worked with primary aged children from South Ferriby School and, by contrast group of secondary students from The Magna Carta School in urban Staines-upon-Thames, an area severely flooded in February 2014. The children produced Flood Manifestos for Change and a short film (view via We have also produced a ‘Ten Tips’ document for how the insurance industry can better support families and children after flooding, which children involved in the project launched at a meeting of the All Parliamentary Group on Flooding and Insurance in 2015.

Children's model of their experience of flooding. Image courtesy of ESRC Children, Young People and Flooding Research Project, Lancaster University

Working closely with flood-affected children and young people we learned how they played an active part in helping their communities during the floods. Many children described how they assisted with moving furniture, putting items upstairs and identifying priority items to ‘save’, as well as helping elderly or disabled neighbours. Sara (13) explained: ‘My village school… was the main centre where all the people who were saved from their houses were. Me and my sister and her friend went down to see if they needed help…. We just served food and made tea and coffee for the people who were going out and rescuing people from their houses… ’ Children demonstrated good understanding of the recovery process and the need for adaptation to flooding. Children talked in detail, for example, about the drying process, insurance and flood defences.

The Children’s and Young People’s Flood Manifestos were developed by each group as a way to intervene and to exert some control over what for many children, is a frightening future, as they are acutely aware they are likely to be flooded again. The Manifestos call in the children’s words for further measures to prepare for, manage and recover from floods.

Because they’ve survived floods (at considerable cost) these children draw on a form of expertise which comes from experience, but they are also not constrained by organisational bureaucracy. The multiple measures they identify in the Manifestos are needed to help prevent, prepare and recover from floods, regardless of whose task it might be to implement them. The children told us that what mattered to them was: how they are treated by agencies and organisations; how they can look after their health; how they can find support from people who understand; and, a little later, how they can participate in resilience work so that they do not fall prey to fatalism and depression (Mort et al 2018). The children were aware that flooding will happen again, and they want to be involved in addressing this. They also have considerable influence over their families, as evidenced in the great improvements which have been made in recent years over fire safety: a sustained programme of Fire & Rescue Service education in schools has resulted in a huge reduction in domestic fires (London Fire Brigade 2015). Children are aware of safety issues and have called for a similar programme in relation to floods. This resonates with a key finding of the larger seven-year cohort study of children’s recovery from Hurricane Katrina, which indicates that children’s participation as active citizens enhances their recovery and sense of control (Fothergill & Peek 2015).

In summary:

Ø Emergency policy and disaster planning must take account of children and young people as affected citizens

Ø The Children’s and Young People’s Flood Manifestos show important gaps to be addressed in current flood policy

Ø Policy development will be more legitimate and robust if it draws on the experiences and strengths of children and young people

Ø Educating children about flooding can have a wider impact on family and community resilience


Fothergill A & Peek L. (2015) Children of Katrina, Austin: University of Texas

London Fire Brigade (2015) (accessed 25.11.2020)

Medd W, Deeming H, Walker G, Whittle R, Mort M, Twigger-Ross C, Walker M, Watson N. & Kashefi E. (2014) The flood recovery gap: a real-time study of local recovery following the floods of June 2007 in Hull, North East England, Journal of Flood Risk Management 8(4) 315-328.

Mort M, Walker M, Lloyd Williams A, Bingley A & Howells V. (2016) Final project report for ‘Children, Young People and Flooding: Recovery and Resilience’, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK via

Mort, M., Walker, M., Lloyd Williams, A. and Bingley, A. (2018). From victims to actors: the role of children and young people in flood recovery and resilience. Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space, 36:3, 423-442.