Sustainable flood memories and the development of community resilience to future flood risk: a comparative study of three recently flooded communities (ESRC award)

The grant was for £242K and ran over 30 months.   The research investigated the extent to which local communities who have a history of past extreme flooding events are better equipped practically and psychologically to cope during and after new flood events, and with the risk of future flood events, in the context of climate change and heightened flood risk.

It comparatively researched three differently composed and situated communities which experienced flooding in River Severn, Gloucestershire in July 2007 and investigated how these communities responded to the catastrophic 2007 flooding and if and how their memories of the 2007 flood were now being developed into individual, family and community memories that will help these communities better cope with future flood risk and flood events.

Particular attention was paid to how different forms of material culture might play a role in recording and disseminating folk memories of flooding, both past memories and the 2007 flood events. These forms will change with technology and will range from traditional flood markers, through photographs, cine, video to the websites (e.g. of parish councils) and social networking and other ICT (e.g. mobile phones, social networking sites). The research then considered how these types of developing memories of flooding and sense of place could be supported, developed and enhanced by agencies charged with the development of flood management and flood response policies.

There were three main beneficiary groups from the research:

  1. Communities; including the communities involved in the research project, in the Severn catchment, in other flood risk locations in the UK and beyond.
  2. The policy/governance community, including those charged with developing flood resilience, and local, regional, national and international practitioners in the varied professions in flood risk management and in encouraging community lead adaptation planning.
  3. Academic communities with interests in flood resilience, senses of place, community, memory and material cultures, sustainable planning.

The aim of this research was to develop insights into how senses of place and shared memories can make communities more resilient to flood risk and future flood events so it has clear and obvious benefits for all three groups set out above. Communities would be able to seek advice on how to develop collective memories of past flood events and how the knowledge of those events can help developing resilience to future flood risk. The policy/governance communities will benefit from the research in that they will be able to better understand:

a) the role that sense of place and shared memories might play in future flood resilience; and

b) means by which such senses of place can be supported and developed and also the impediments to their development. The community will benefit from the findings of this interdisciplinary, theoretically innovative approach to a very important social and physical process. The way the research is conducted and the findings it generates will be of significance to a range of academic areas including: memory studies, human geography and senses of place, environmental management, and approaches which are seeking to break down the over distinctive divisions between expert knowledge and lay knowledges, particularly in relation to how places are understood and managed.

The project produced an action pack for use at the community level (which will become available on this project website and disseminated through appropriate networks); reports and an action pack for use by agencies charged with developing local community flood resilience (which will also become available on project website/disseminated on appropriate networks) and, for the academic community, a series of conference papers/peer reviewed papers.

The interdisciplinary team working on the project was Professor Lindsey McEwen (Principal Investigator, Faculty of Environment and Technology, UWE) with Owain Jones, Franz Krause, (both Countryside and Community Research Institute), Jo Garde-Hansen (Centre of Media, Memory and Community) and Iain Robertson (Humanities), (all co-investigators), has secured an ESRC award for research into sustainable flood memory.

Visit our blog and leave a message! A blog about, for and with communities’ memories of the River Severn floods, UK

Information is also available via the ESRC research catalogue