This is Ben’s story about what happened to him with some key learning points at the end…
On the evening of 9th February 2014, after days of persistent rain, seven severe flood warnings (the highest category) were put in place for the River Thames in north Surrey. Residents were evacuated and roads and schools were closed. The Staines area experienced clusters of events involving tidal, river, rainfall and groundwater flooding. These four stories, taken from our ‘Children, Young People and Flooding: Recovery and Resilience’ project, show how flooding can reveal, and even exacerbate, existing social vulnerabilities.
Ben, aged 12, lives in a house with his parents, older brother and dog. Although it had been raining steadily for days, Ben said, ‘Because we were so far away from the river we didn’t think we would get flooded’. But then the flood waters starting rising quickly: ‘so it rose about eight inches in two hours or something… It went up really fast’. At this point Ben’s granddad telephoned and Ben said:
Ben helped his mum to move furniture upstairs, putting the sofa on stilts and helping a disabled neighbour: ‘A few doors on from us there’s a man.., he’s got a disabled mum who lives downstairs and me and my mum had to go in and help him move her upstairs’. His father came home from work and they carried on moving furniture and attempting to block up the airbricks with plastic bags and silicone.
At about 2 a.m. the floodwaters stopped rising and the family went to bed. The next morning the water had receded and they believed they had escaped the flooding.
But then about a week after the flood, ‘we realised that all our plaster was coming off and all our floorboards had moved. They were all twisting’. Ben’s dad looked under the floorboards and saw the water was just below them. The insurance company came out and started drilling into the walls to assess the damage. The house was damp and noisy and Ben’s mum said the family couldn’t live with the amount of damp and upheaval and would have to move. Ben remembered that the insurance company:
asked us if we could go to any relatives or friends or anything. We said, ‘No they’re all flooded’ because one lives in [nearby town] and they’re flooded, one lives [outside of England], and all our friends were flooded.
The family went into rented accommodation further away from school than Ben had ever been before and so instead of walking to school he started cycling. But Ben didn’t talk to his school friends about how the flood had resulted in his having to move away from his home and he said, ‘I couldn’t go to the park. My friends kept asking me but my mum wouldn’t let me cycle in the dark’. He just stopped meeting his mates and this impacted on his friendship network. Added to this, Ben didn’t think to tell the staff at school that he had been evacuated and never talked to anyone other than Callum about how the flooding had impacted on his life.
Ben’s family were away from their home for over a year. The time in the rented accommodation turned out to be a lot longer than they had anticipated. The drying certificate was given but then there were six months of no activity, waiting for the builders to carry out the repairs: ‘because six months the house had the dry certificate but no one was doing anything’. The lease on the rented accommodation ran out and the family had to find an alternative and move again: ‘ Yeah, because that one had run out, the owners were coming back’. Talking about his flood experiences Ben told us that the worst thing ‘was moving… because you had to pack it all up, then it would take two hours to unpack it and then you have to do it again and then again’.
Ben’s experience demonstrates that you are unable to plan anything, your future gets put on hold, you are at the mercy of other people’s timetables and it destroys your sense of agency. And yet life has to go on – people have to go to work; children have to go to school.
- Groundwater flooding takes the family by surprise
- Children’s active role in flood response
- Multiple moves into rented accommodation causes stress
- Moving away from home results in loss of friendship networks
- Unnecessary delays in building repairs lengthens the displacement from home
Please reference as: Flooding – a social impact archive, Lancaster University