Why community organising is essential in post-flood communities

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Photo Wendy North, floods South Yorks in 2007

Guest post by Jack Ashton, a victim of the 2015 floods, as well as being an active Labour Party and Momentum member. 

I watched the Calder Valley floods on the news from my third floor apartment. “Looks bad doesn’t it?” I text my mam. Four years prior, I watched the flood from storm Desmond come through the floorboards into my own house. “Not good is it?” I text my mam. 

Few things shake up your life like 3ft of water in your house. Like with all aspects of hardship, the months following were spent relying on the support networks we had and being let down by the ones that didn’t come through.

I’d spent the previous few hours of that night helping my neighbours and people in my area prepare for the floods. One lady in particular sticks in my mind still as she thanked me with a hefty pack of homemade gingerbread for moving her furniture upstairs. As we were moving it, she told me how her husband was away for the week and that she hoped she’d be okay. I told her she would be and we parted ways with ‘good luck’. The water was already inside her house by the time I left. 

My household was one of the 6 million in the UK without home insurance – when something is treated as a commodity, it gets budgeted out at the expense of heating and food – so we spent the days after the flood trying to recover. 

For a short time there isn’t much you can do, and then there isn’t enough time to do everything. Carpets need to be stripped. Furniture replaced. Walls and floorboards checked. Neighbours need to be reassured. There’s too much to do on your own, which is why the support we had was vital. 

Whilst we shovelled sewage out of our house, members of the local Conservative Party came to offer us flapjacks on our doorstep whilst their MP’s voted down additional flood defence spending in Parliament. It became clear that there was a huge difference between the help we needed and the help we were going to get. While we were eating said flapjack, a range of organised community efforts came to the aid of myself and my family. 

The local church, which we had never visited in any religious capacity, gave us free meals, company and entertainment. We visited our local food bank for the first time, which had been incredibly well stocked by the non-flooded parts of our town. People began to meet at the church to organise resistance and relief measures like arranging volunteers to clear out houses, and local groups became places to get free furniture (some of which we have in the house to this day).

There’s scope here to address the more meaningful aspects of the solidarity offered. The difference between a flapjack and a pair of hands rarely needs stating, and here is no exception. The solidarity I experienced from people I’d never met before, compared with the distinct lack of action in Westminster turned me further towards the Labour Party and the political left. Fast forward 5 years later and as a member of Manchester Momentum, the problem and solution has never been clearer.

At Manchester Momentum, we have a key philosophy that politics isn’t just for election times, and that if you want to make real change in your community then you need to start immersing yourself within it. Not only are we best placed to help people if we know what’s going on in their area, but they’re more likely to get involved with us and our work helping others if they see our work first hand. 

Crisis hit environments like flood zones are repeatedly preyed upon by those who would sooner hand out a flapjack than get involved with communities. Those who sit in Westminster are happy to allow businesses to profit off the rebuild, but aren’t all too happy to get off their asses and approve some flood defence spending. 

Community involvement and cohesion is the prime way to stop this happening. Not only can proper organisation within communities help provide immediate relief, but it can help provide protection for residents after flooding hits. Many people are lost, confused and angry about the lack of help they receive and consultation groups to put pressure on councils, MP’s and provide a voice for the local community can be essential in helping post-flood communities survive. 

When you get put in one of these environments like I did, it becomes clear who is on your side and who isn’t. The Prime Minister’s distinctive lack of presence after the floods last month showed us just this. Whether we accept it or not, people have already picked sides, and in a situation of rebuilding someone’s home, it’s essential we take the side of those who need it. 

Note from Climate Museum UK: This is one of a series of posts resulting from a call-out during the Flooding crisis in one of the wettest (and warmest) winters in the UK on record. We want to collect stories of the experience of living through the impacts of the Climate and Ecological Emergency. Political views expressed in guest posts are not those of our organisation, and as a CIC we are unable to be political, but we believe it is right to host political expression across the UK community as an integral part of this response. If you would like to share your experiences in a guest post, please contact us on climatemuseumuk@gmail.com 

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