Geraldine Brown | Local Hero Winner

Flood Re has just completed its search for the nation’s Local Flood Hero. Targeting communities across the UK, Local Heroes was designed to champion flood relief efforts that are often unrecognised nationally. Sponsored by NFU Mutual and Covéa Insurance, entries about Local Heroes were submitted for the chance of winning a £10,000 community grant for flood defence measures. Whittled down to five finalists and one winner, our Local Heroes Winner, Geraldine Brown from Yaling in Kent shares her story.

From spending Christmas Day 2013 rescuing flood-trapped residents to setting up emergency contact and respite centres, Geraldine Brown has selflessly dedicated the last 17 years of her life to reducing the impact of flooding on others. Her village of Yalding and her own home were both catastrophically flooded in 2000:

“The floods of 2000 were probably the worst of the two because I and many of my neighbours had never experienced anything like it before. Nobody was talking to anybody and everybody was just focused on trying to evacuate the village.

“After that, we decided we had to take action to avoid that extent of chaos happening again. We wrote the Yalding emergency plan, set-up an emergency contact list, created a list of residences prone to flooding and prepared the church as an emergency rest area so at least when we flooded again we were more prepared.

“When the Rivers Medway, Beult and Teise burst their banks on Christmas Day 2013, Maidstone and several villages were submerged, but this time we had plans in place to help people and keep everyone in touch with each other.”

On Christmas Eve 2013, the Environment Agency (EA) informed Geraldine, Chairman of Yalding Parish Council, of imminent widespread flooding. In the absence of electricity, Geraldine and her Parish Clerk knocked on doors throughout Yalding, asking residents to move cars, take property upstairs and consider leaving.

That Christmas morning, Geraldine was at the flood edge organising local sea-scouts to rescue residents who chose to stay at home. Ensuring everyone had somewhere safe to go, she worked until the emergency services arrived:

“Although we are advised by the EA 24 hours in advance of any impending flood, it’s just horrendous when you see the water trickling through your floor and in through your door. Up until that point, you’ve got your fingers and toes crossed that it’ll pass. Some people can’t cope with it, while others have worked alongside me in trying to make sure that everyone is safe.”

Geraldine now works tirelessly alongside the EA to further her deep personal understanding of Yalding’s local rivers. She has direct access into the Environment Agency’s emergency centre where she updates 600 residents during times of potential and major flooding, and has been part of the Medway Flood to promote flood risk mitigation options against her local rivers.

Working in partnership with her local MP, Helen Grant, Geraldine has secured visits to Yalding from David Cameron, Danny Alexander, Prince Charles and other local officials. She’s recruited, trained and equipped flood wardens to help in emergencies, keeping residents informed and looking out for those that are vulnerable.

Her other achievements include helping residents’ complete property level protection surveys, working with local schools to educate the next generation about flooding, lobbied UKPower to move substations and encouraged Kent County Council to improve traffic management during flooding, persuading them that the community can close their own roads.

Geraldine explained the challenges and prospects for flood defence that Yalding is still to face:

“We were hoping to build two flood storage areas, but the final modelling shows that the catchment is too shallow. At the moment, we’re working on property level resistance, surveying all the properties for available funding and fitting flood resistant doors and pumps.

“Of course, this isn’t possible for all properties – for example, my home won’t benefit from it because of its construction. So, we’re also developing community resilience, building walls and bungs to hold the water back and keep it away.

“One of the most exciting developments is the Medway Flood Partnership which was set up with the EA, and the Medway Flood Action Plan is launching on 1st December 2017. The plan is designed to bring all key stakeholders together to investigate immediate and longer-term solutions to mitigate flooding through capital investment, natural flood management and community resilience.”

Geraldine is determined to ensure that Yalding remains top of every authority’s agenda until a significant technical solution is found.

Flood Re is a government backed scheme that can help flood risk victims in villages like Yalding find more affordable home insurance. If you think your property may be eligible for the scheme, visit: floodrearchive.isready.co.uk/homeowner/eligibility/

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