Northern England - Floods

Source Document: Hugh Deeming, Belinda Davis, Maureen Fordham, Simon Taylor, Richard Taylor. 31st December 2014. Floods in Northern England. WP5 Case Study Report. Deliverable 5.6

As one of 5 case studies into community resilience undertaken as part of the emBRACE project across Europe, this study was carried out with the participation and assistance of members of a complex amalgamation of geographical, interest and practice communities situated along the catchment of the River Derwent in the county of Cumbria, north England. This investigation contained the following three broad research aims:

 

1.     To identify the resource sets required by a community to build resilience toward flood events and the capacities required to mobilise these resources.

2.     To assess how social factors such as trust, accountability, cooperation, power and influence interact to influence the mobilisation of resources.

3.     To devise indicators for components of the resource sets, action phases (mitigation, etc.) and social learning dimensions, which are at the heart of the emBRACE general framework.

 

In terms of meeting the principal emBRACE aim of ‘Building resilience to disasters amongst communities in Europe’, this case study offered particular value, because it presented an opportunity to investigate the concept as it is operationalised across a range of hydrologically-linked topographical and social contexts i.e. from hill farms in the Lake District fells to the post-industrial port town of Workington that lies at the mouth of the river.  The focus of the research was on understanding community resilience to hi-magnitude floods, because parts of this catchment have experienced at least two such events since 2005.

Including data from >65 interviews a series of workshops and observations at community events the study met a series of aims related to understanding and developing indicators for community resilience at two important scales (sub-county and catchment).

In respect to the first project aim, the research confirmed a complex mix of resource and capacity sets that comprise the core of community disaster resilience and identified that, while civil protection dimensions remain key facilitators, they cannot effect fully resilient outcomes unless developed in concert with the broader formal social protection objectives and alongside a cohort of engaged community members.

The complexity of the relationships between the emBRACE-relevant domains of resources/capacities, actions and learning was evident, as the lens passed down the catchment from the Fells to the sea. The research perfectly illustrated the difficulty in compartmentalising ‘Community Resilience’ as any simple, uniform component of a population’s makeup: the even greater complexity of the cross-context indicator sets proposed at the end of this report is a demonstration of this. Some key attributes did emerge, however.  For example, social network maps can be used to illustrate very effectively the complex lateral bonding and bridging nature of key individuals’ social networks within a geographically hazard-exposed community, but they also reveal how effective some of these people are at linking hierarchically into power relationships; often on first-name terms via key boundary actors and brokers within formal governance institutions.  The potential role of people like this, in both the community and within the formal ‘protective’ organisations, in facilitating concerted community engagement with risk mitigation and resilience building should not be underestimated or devalued.  However, the evidence also shows that this engagement can come at considerable personal cost to these people, especially if they have been directly hazard affected themselves.  Furthermore, if so much of a community’s resilience is based on one or a small number of individuals, does this not also point to a vulnerability, or at least a lack of redundancy at its heart, which the presence of strong, accountable, institutionalised support services (‘social protection’ broadly understood) can go some way to alleviate?

In relation to the second project aim, it was found that to build trust in FRM bureaucratic processes and civil protection procedures at a catchment scale, which inevitably encompasses a range of communities with varying access to resources and capacities, requires a dynamic appreciation of balance and social equity.  Without this there is a risk that isolated and vulnerable communities will be left to spectate as those with louder voices, greater savvy and more political linkage receive more investment (e.g. financial, emotional, temporal), simply because they are more able to manipulate the ‘rules of the game’ in their own favour.  Such challenges lie at the heart of the social equity concerns that underpin the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach. 

Austerity and the intense competition for the financial resources in the UK Government’s Flood Risk Management (FRM) budget provided a backdrop against which many smaller communities were being encouraged to do what they could for themselves.  Even large physical schemes in England now seek a community contribution, but this case study describes how one such scheme has come to fruition.  This was achieved through concerted efforts by the town’s Flood Action Group, enabled and facilitated by the local authority and other flood-management agencies.  The fact that physical defence structures formed such a focus of attention cannot, however, be ignored from a resilience perspective.  This is because we should all be cognisant of the conclusive critique in the literature regarding the tendency of structural measures to increase rather than to reduce flood risk.  In terms of resilience in the Derwent catchment, however, it remained the presence or lack of engineered solutions that went furthest toward underpinning people’s psychological ability to manage the risks to which they remain exposed:

“I don’t know at which point you get to that … point of saying ‘actually we have bent out of shape so much that there is no more elasticity; we have to change things’.  And that’s not the same as returning to a normality.  What we’re talking about is there is fundamental transformation and I don’t think we’re there yet with flooding in Cumbria, because it’s easier to build, to do the King Canute thing of trying to hold things back, rather than move great chunks of [our towns].” Interviewee: C47_M_1

What these investigations also revealed quite clearly was that resilience, as it is defined by the IPCC (2014) is powerfully represented along this catchment.  It has, however, been won over a period of years through the experience of repeated flood events and other emergencies.  It has also been won at higher cost to those directly impacted by those events than to those who have not been.  There is clear evidence of the capacity exhibited by the catchment’s social, economic, and environmental systems to cope with a high magnitude flood event as well as with other disturbances.  They have also responded to and reorganised themselves in ways that maintain their essential function, identity, and structure and they have adapted and learned, while also perhaps maintaining a capacity for transformation that may only truly be operationalised once some future tipping point is crossed.  Whether the next high-magnitude flood to strike pushes one or more of the communities studied here over that remaining threshold remains difficult to assess. 

This report has corroborated the understanding that, even in the close spatial confines of a short river catchment, different geographical communities need to access and utilise different resource sets and capacities to maintain their resilience to hazards.  However, it has also identified that engaged Communities of Resilience Practice (CoRP), comprising statutory agencies and representatives of the hazard-exposed populations, offer significant potential in working collaboratively toward disaster-risk reduction outcomes at these catchment scales.  A challenge is also offered, however, in the way that CoRP’s have been identified as requiring a truly inclusive remit.  This involves the formal agencies understanding and supporting each other’s roles, in deliberating and delivering a full range of capacity-building civil- and social-protection solutions that reflect sustainable, equitable and achievable outcomes at every point along the Integrated Emergency Management spectrum (i.e. not just preparedness and response) and for all communities they serve.  From this perspective this report should be regarded as an illustration that Cumbria Resilience Forum’s CoRP offers an example of good practice that could be emulated.   

In completion of the final research aim, the set of qualitatively-determined indicators proposed at the end of this report offers Communities of Resilience Practice potentially useful metrics with which to measure the resilience of their hazard-exposed population over time, but also a means through which to illustrate to each other the complex range of community attributes that they each, and therefore by association, they all need to nurture if their risk reduction mandate is to be achieved.


Conclusion:  ‘Community Resilience’ at the Catchment Scale: Balancing Civil and Social Protection Needs and Priorities

Investigating ‘community’ resilience to natural hazards along a short river catchment presents problems of quantification and qualification.  The very question “which community are we talking about?” revealed there to be any number of population groups who could be categorised as bearing an interest.  Flood impacts along the course of the catchment varied.  The inundation of fertile pasture meant that farmers in the high catchment saw their, already multiply-stressed, businesses placed under further strain, whilst townspeople and businesses further downstream also experienced devastating damage to their homes, livelihoods and psychological security.

That the population affected by the 2009 flood has visibly ‘recovered’ can, to a large extent, be attributed to the hard work of individuals as well as groups and networks operating through a range of formal and informal institutions at a number of scales.  Individual ‘Floodees’ have laboured to return their own properties to functionality.  The Flood Action Groups have worked closely with the formal agencies in ‘Communities of Resilience Practice’ (CoRP), which have grown and developed through processes of social learning. They have done this in ways that have built both their own capacities to respond to a future event, but also enabled and encouraged them to advocate – often vociferously – for mitigation measures to be developed to protect them.  The personnel and staff of the civil protection agencies and statutory and 3rd sector social protection practitioners have been stretched, during a period of concurrent financial austerity, to assist their communities to get back to ‘normal’. Part of this assistance has required them to encourage and/or to compel communities to take responsibility for their own resilience.

The aims of the case-study were:
1. To identify the resource and capacity sets required by a community to build resilience toward flood events and the capabilities required to mobilise these resources.
2. To assess how social factors such as trust, accountability, cooperation, power and influence interact to influence the mobilisation of resources.
3. To devise indicators of community resilience that encompass the resource sets, action phases (mitigation, etc.) and social learning dimensions that are at the heart of the emBRACE general framework

In respect to the first aim, the research confirmed the complex mix of resource and capacity sets that comprise the core of community disaster resilience. While civil protection dimensions remain key facilitators, they cannot effect fully resilient outcomes unless developed in concert with the broader social protection objectives and alongside a cohort of engaged community members and professional ‘brokers’. The varying outcomes for Keswick and Cockermouth on one hand and Workington on the other go some way to evidence to support the need for an effective ‘Community of Resilience Practice’.

The complexity of the relationships between resources/capacities, actions and learning was evident, as the lens passed down the catchment from the Fells to the sea and perfectly illustrated the difficulty in compartmentalising ‘Community Resilience’ as any simple, uniform component of a population’s makeup: the even greater complexity of the cross-context indicator sets is a demonstration of this. Some key attributes did emerge, however.  For example, the social network maps in Box 6.1, (p.46), illustrate very effectively the complex lateral bonding and bridging nature of key individuals’ social networks at community and formal institutional level, but they also reveal how effective these people are at linking hierarchically (often on first-name terms) into power relationships.  The potential role of people like this, as well as roles for trained professional brokers in facilitating concerted community engagement with risk mitigation and resilience building should not be underestimated or devalued.  However, it should not be forgotten that this engagement can also come at considerable personal cost to them, especially if these individuals have been directly flood affected themselves.  Furthermore, if so much of a community’s resilience is based on one or a small number of individuals does this not also point to a vulnerability, or at least a lack of redundancy, at its heart that the presence of strong, accountable, institutional services and support (‘social protection’ broadly understood) should go some way to alleviate?

In relation to the second aim, to build trust in FRM bureaucratic processes and civil protection procedures within a catchment, which inevitably encompasses a range of communities with varying access to resources and capacities, requires a dynamic appreciation of balance and social equity.  Without this there is a risk that isolated and vulnerable communities will be left to spectate as those with louder voices, greater savvy and more political linkage receive more investment (e.g. financial, emotional, temporal), simply because they are more able to manipulate the ‘rules of the game’ in their own favour.  Such challenges lie at the heart of the social equity concerns that underpin the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach.  

In essence, however, the process that could be said to have underpinned community resilience across the social scales and catchment features investigated, revealed itself to be contextually complex and rich in its capacity – either latent or pre-existing – to expand, extend or to emerge (Dynes, 2005a) within any number of social, or community situations.  Key factors in determining how resilient the households, businesses and communities were relative to each other, included, as already summarised, the presence and engagement of ‘resourceful’ individuals (within the community itself or as enablers working within community-facing organisations), but also place-based factors such as the availability of a formal warning systems and loss-sharing mechanisms.  The importance of understanding any community’s capacity and willingness to trust in authority appeared to be a key attribute.  

Austerity and the intense competition for the financial resources in Defra’s FRM budget provided a backdrop against which many smaller communities were being encouraged to do what they could for themselves.  Even large physical schemes needed a community contribution, but in Cockermouth such a scheme came to fruition.  This was achieved through the collaborative efforts of the town’s FAG the local authority and other flood-management agencies.  The fact that physical defence structures formed such a focus of attention cannot, however, be ignored from a resilience perspective.  This is because we should all be cognisant of the conclusive critique in the literature regarding the tendency of structural measures to increase rather than to reduce flood risk (Brown and Damery, 2002, Parker, 1995, White et al., 2001).  In terms of resilience in the Derwent catchment, however, it was the presence or lack of engineered solutions that went furthest toward underpinning people’s psychological ability to manage the risks to which they remain exposed:

“I don’t know at which point you get to that … point of saying ‘actually we have bent out of shape so much that there is no more elasticity; we have to change things’.  And that’s not the same as returning to a normality.  What we’re talking about is there is fundamental transformation and I don’t think we’re there yet with flooding in Cumbria, because it’s easier to build, to do the King Canute thing of trying to hold things back, rather than move great chunks of [our towns].” C47_M_1

What these investigations revealed quite clearly was that resilience, as it is defined by the IPCC (2014) is powerfully represented along this catchment.  It has, however, been won over a period of years through the experience of repeated flood events and other emergencies.  It has also been won at higher cost to those directly impacted by those events than to those who have not been.  There is clear evidence of the capacity exhibited by the catchment’s social, economic, and environmental systems to cope with a high magnitude flood event as well as with other disturbances.  They have also responded to and reorganised themselves in ways that maintain their essential function, identity, and structure and they have adapted and learned, while also perhaps maintaining a capacity for transformation  that may only truly be operationalised once some future tipping point is crossed.  Whether the next high-magnitude flood to strike pushes one or more of the communities studied here over that remaining threshold remains difficult to assess.  

This report has corroborated the understanding that, even in the close spatial confines of a short river catchment, different geographical communities need to access and utilise different resource sets and capacities to maintain their resilience to hazards.  However, it has also identified that engaged Communities of Resilience Practice (CoRP) offer significant potential in working collaboratively toward disaster-risk reduction outcomes at these catchment scales.  A challenge is also offered, however, in the way that CoRP’s have been identified as requiring a truly inclusive remit.  This involves formal agencies understanding and supporting each other’s roles, in deliberating and delivering a full range of capacity-building civil- and social-protection solutions that reflect sustainable, equitable and achievable outcomes at every point along the Integrated Emergency Management spectrum (i.e. not just preparedness and response) and for all communities they serve.  From this perspective this report should be regarded as an illustration that Cumbria Resilience Forum’s CoRP offers an example of good practice that could be emulated.    

In completion of the final aim, the set of qualitatively-determined indicators proposed in this report offers Communities of Resilience Practice potentially useful metrics with which to measure the resilience of their hazard-exposed population over time, but also a means through which to illustrate to each other the complex range of community attributes that they each, and therefore by association, they all need to nurture if their risk reduction mandate is to be achieved.