Archive for the ‘tourism’ Category

Tewkesbury and Floods: Known by Association?   Leave a comment

Despite being 5 years ago, the notion and pictures of a flooded Tewkesbury came into the public spotlight once again. During the rain in late April of this year, Tewkesbury once again flooded; however, the flood waters were much lower than they had been 5 years earlier. The media and the public quickly likened the event to the 2007 floods, to the extent that visitors to the town were ringing businesses to see if they were ‘open for business’, while other stayed away altogether, anxious to get stuck in a flooded town.

However, as we have seen and discussed in other blog posts, this flood was very much a normal, seasonal flood with the floodplains surrounding the market town under water. ‘Seasonal flood’ is very much a buzz word amongst Tewkesbury residents to encourage people to come to the town during these types of flood events despite what they may read or hear in the media. A BBC article explores the use of phrases like ‘seasonal floods’ and ‘open for business’ from Tewkesbury residents as a counter strategy to the flood reputation built up within the media. This article asks 5 Tewkesbury residents from different walks of life the same question:

So, five years on, how has it felt to see the town back in the national spotlight after heavy rains led to seasonal flooding?

Despite answering the question from different angles, the respondents portray a range of shared beliefs and attitudes. The continual association of Tewkesbury with the 2007 floods and its floodplain location is the main issue. The residents feel that due to the extreme flood event in 2007 the perception amongst the public is that all subsequent normal floods have the same impact. This perception is confirmed by the media:

“After all we did as a community when we surrounded the Abbey with colour and music and laughter (“Over the Rainbow” event, 2008) and said “we’ve got over this”, but it doesn’t appear that the media is capable of getting over it.

They are trying to make Tewkesbury and flooding an open sore, and it isn’t.

[This week] I have seen nothing that hasn’t happened three times a year all the 14 years that I have been the town crier”.

Town Crier

Due to the media referring to 2007 during any flood since then, visitors tend to:

“…….think that Tewkesbury is virtually shut but it’s not.

I have had customers phoning up asking if we are going to be open and I have had family and friends phoning up to make sure we are alright. Everything’s fine.”

B&B Owner


This frustration leads to the residents’ coming together to propagate the concept of ‘seasonal floods’ and to advertise that Tewkesbury is ‘open for business’ to the general public. They wanted to teach the wider public to differentiate between the two scales of floods – seasonal, i.e. ‘normal’ and 2007, i.e. exceptional.

Many are afraid that the general association between Tewkesbury and floods is reaffirmed by visitors, which is believed to cause negative economic consequences for the town.

“They’ll look at the weather and think the town is closed.”

Businesswoman

“It [recent media coverage] has brought flooding back into the forefront and makes people wonder whether Tewkesbury should be here or not…….We have started to get places and we really need to carry on, but people tend to get nervous especially when they are put under a lot of pressure about flooding.”

Severn and Avon Valley Combined Flood Group

“We are a holiday town and we rely on that and it is unfair really to think of flooding and then immediately think of Tewkesbury.”

Vicar of Tewkesbury

What this article explores is:

  • The use of media to confirm and form perceptions about certain topics

  • Continued association of Tewkesbury and flooding

  • Sense of community to reverse Tewkesbury’s reputation using positive buzz words such as ‘seasonal flooding’ and ‘open for business’

  • The importance of distinguishing different kinds of floods – especially for floodplain residents, but also for wider society

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A Very Watery Guided Tour   1 comment

Whilst conducting interviews in Tewkesbury we stumbled across a booklet which guided tourist around the town. Instead of this tour describing the epic Battle of Tewkesbury or the unique, mediaeval alleys that inter-connect the town, this guide places the tourist in the Wellington boots/waders of the residents who were affected by the 2007 flood.

                                      

Written by a local of 40 years, it gives a detailed account of the extent of the flood but most importantly tells the stories that regularly accompany this event. Obviously this guide includes details of destruction and damage, e.g. boats sunken on moorings, and the trial of damaged furniture during the clean out. But many of the stories retold are positive and some give accounts of the residents viewing the events around them:

‘Barricaded behind piled up sandbags, they brought out picnic chairs, and glasses of wine and sat watching all the activity’

‘They were seen on national TV sitting on the roof waving to the cameras’

Principally, this guide places the visitor in the middle of the outstanding community spirit amongst the stricken residents of Tewkesbury. Stories it refers to include:

  • Staff at the Borough Council Offices caring for people who had been forced out of their home

  • A message, and later a gift, from Meisbach, Bavaria, the twinned town of Tewkesbury

  • Youngsters thoughtfully checking on the vulnerable

  • The Abbey, a national and international symbol of the floods, conducted a wedding  with local residents invited due to the inaccessibility into the town for guests

  • Also the Abbey invited children to play and construct Christmas presents to those without the space to do so.

One particular story most eloquently illustrates the mutual help that prevailed during the floods:

‘A few yards further on is the Scout Hut. Local cub leaders opened this refuge for anyone in need. They provided hot food and drinks, somewhere to sleep if necessary and – possibly more importantly – somewhere for homeless people to go and relax. Between them just four people kept it running round the clock for as long as it was needed – almost two weeks. Their efforts were recognised by the town council and the Scouting Association. The manager of Tesco, immediately opposite the scout hut, very generously provided food, drinks and other items, including toiletries, which those who had left home with nothing, might need. As word went round about their efforts local people took in toys, clothes and all kinds of things. One woman had been rescued from her Church Street home with her newborn baby, with just the pyjamas she was wearing at the time. She was soon fitted out with clothes for herself and her baby, and given a cup of tea and somewhere quiet to sit and recover.’

This story describes how a community can come together in moments of crisis. Most importantly, though, it retells this story to visitors. This means this story is constantly told to a new audience allowing this memory to be maintained not just inside the Tewkesbury community but also for a wider audience. This account also allows positive stories to shine through what was a devastating event for the residents.

The guide finishes with walking past the Abbey and back to the starting point of the tour. During these final stages the booklet describes the Over The Rainbow event, with the symbolic hug of the Abbey from the residents. These later stages of the walk also describe the massive clear up effort, renovation of dwellings and council projects after the floods, like dredging the Mill Avon watercourse and the re-assessment of building on floodplains.

The guide booklet ‘The Tewkesbury Floods’ by Peggy Clatworthy can be bought, for instance, at the Tewkesbury Tourist Information Office and Heritage Centre ‘Out of the Hat’ (100 Church St, Tewkesbury GL20 5AB).

What this account explores is the:

Need to exemplify the positives during bleak times.

Opportunities and activities which can assist in maintaining memories and stories, not just to locals but to a wider audience.