Flood resilient communities

Floods can be devastating - communities world-wide face challenges in dealing with them. UWE Bristol researchers co-work with communities and agencies to transform thinking on 'preparedness' and adaptive resilience to floods/extreme weather.

A growing issue

Climate change increases the frequency of weather extremes, and is likely to lead to more floods and droughts for communities. At the same time, policy and practice (in the UK and elsewhere) is placing more responsibility for flood risk management on local governments and the communities themselves. It's more important than ever that residents are empowered to get more involved in managing their own environment. Professor Lindsey McEwen and Associate Professor Jessica Lamond and their teams have been working hard to understand already existing knowledge and skills among different stakeholders, identify and remedy gaps in communication and involvement, and share good practice locally and nationally.

After the UK floods of 2014, and again in 2016, UWE Bristol researchers shared their research into the costs and benefits of property level protection and resilience. They provided advice to affected households through flood recovery guidance and information for insurers, loss adjusters and Local Authorities. Members of the team were involved in directly assisting homeowners in accessing grants to adapt their homes to limit future damage.

"It's all about resilience building," says Professor McEwen. "There's plenty of evidence that people can be flooded several times before they do anything to protect themselves. So we're working with residents, businesses and local agencies to exchange community knowledge in order to develop a collective capacity to become more resilient." 

UWE Bristol researchers continue to co-develop strategies to encourage uptake of property level measures with communities and their support networks through work for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and others.

Communicating flood memories

Raising collective awareness of flood risk and good ways to reduce risk are critical pieces of the jigsaw, and that means communication is key. The team are developing innovative methods to connect residents and small businesses, town planners, designers, and water management agencies, so that decision making is shared. Using digital storytelling, community projects and the arts, their research, co-produced with communities, aims to empower individuals and groups to take action.

"Communicating scientific information is important," says Associate Professor Lamond, "but we also need to recognise that people are experts in their own lives. Managing flooding is about everyone sharing their experiential knowledge and memories so that we can find new solutions that are owned by communities."

For example, Professor McEwen's recent research, working with communities and other stakeholders in flood risk management, has highlighted the need to extend traditional models of information transfer of 'expert scientific knowledge' from agencies to the public. This is fostering a transformation of engagement practice that values lay/local knowledges and intergenerational exchanges in social learning about how to live with floods. The team has worked with communities to build an archive of resilience stories that can be shared online and face to face. It is now building a toolkit to enable small businesses to access relevant peer to peer resources based on narratives that capture different experiences of adaptation.

Living with water

"We need to accept that flooding won't go away, however hard we try," says Associate Professor Lamond. "Resilience, adaptation and changing attitudes and behaviour are our core aims in improving the lives of people in flood prone areas."

Adapting the way we live with water is difficult, but the team is hopeful that by working with and alongside communities in exploring different ways to accept water in towns and cities and prepare for flood risk, they can make a difference. So the researchers at UWE Bristol are exploring the potential of changing attitudes and behaviours through research funded by UK Research CouncilNational Science Foundation (US) and others exploring what 'hydrocitizenship' could mean, and fostering blue-green visions of the future in the UK and internationally. These both seek to transform societies' relationships with water.

The research suggests that taking a long term view helps to ensure that urban adaptation is sustainable into the future. It also highlights that raising the importance of flood and water management in debate at local level, and embedding improved understanding of natural processes in education, has the potential to change attitudes and behaviour. Using these approaches improves the lives of citizens in ways that go beyond the reduction of flood risk.