… Church Street was flooded all the way along here but it was sort of walkable, it wasn’t completely closed off. Within a few days I was down here seeing what I could do to help …
This is an excerpt from one of our first interviews, with a lady from Tewksbury. She was 72 at the time of the July 2007 floods, but did not talk about her own suffering very much. Rather, she remembered a lot of mutual help and community spirit during and after the flood. In her housing estate that was almost completely flooded, they even set up a neighbourhood association after the floods, formalising some of the collaboration that had been boosted during the flood.
there were some three or four families … [who] said we need to support the rest of our neighbours … help them through this post flood situation. … You know all these things that were a terrible worry to some families. And it was a form of community support.
And I think it allowed people to talk it out, you know, talk it over and put ideas forward, saying what the council should do in the future. And I mean, this is how we got all the drains and the rivers and the ditches all dredged. There was various associations in groups, roads that formed these little committees. And they were all saying the same things. And all this went to… It was good reinforcement to tell the council to never let this happen again.
The mainstream understanding of resilience has it that community functioning breaks down during a flood. But from this lady’s memories, it seems that some form of community – probably not the formal one of schools, stores and routines – can actually thrive during a flood. This is an informal form of community of direct help to neighbours, stranded travellers, vulnerable residents, etc.
What does that mean for community resilience to floods?
How can this essentially informal setting be incorporated into larger flood risk management? Or should it at all?
And what is it that makes some groups of people cohere during an event like a flood, while others perhaps disintegrate even more in such an event?