Kevin Curley: York after the flooding has a lesson for others

Although a social media campaign quickly garnered local support to help victims, there is a need for more forward planning, writes our columnist

Kevin Curley
Kevin Curley

I was working with trustees at York CVS in late 2015, helping them to recruit a new chief executive, when the floods hit the city.

The River Foss burst its banks, inundating more than 600 homes. But what happened next was just as dramatic. Fourteen thousand people offered their help through a Facebook page set up by local resident Michelle Holmes. People bailed water out of flooded houses and businesses, cooked meals for people made homeless and supported the emergency services. The local paper, The Press, said: "For every story of suffering and heartache there was... another story of selflessness and sacrifice." People also responded generously to an appeal launched by Two Ridings Community Foundation, contributing £700,000 in just a few weeks.

With so much spontaneous volunteering spurred on by social media, is there a need to be more organised for the next flood? York CVS has set up an Emergency Steering Group, under the banner "Ready for Anything", to bring together voluntary organisations, the city council and local businesses. Neil Tippin, managing director of NGT Products, is urging business leaders to register to help in any future emergency. Tippin told me: "There was a wonderful response during the Boxing Day floods. I believe, however, that to be at our most effective we need to be organised. Forward planning will be a fantastic way to bring communities closer together and allow us to direct help to where it's most needed." Tippin has stressed to businesses that money isn't always needed so much as storage space, transport and organising skills.

Debbie Megone, special projects consultant at York CVS, is inviting all the volunteers who assisted in December 2015 to provide information about their skills and experience so that gaps can be identified and training offered. The CVS is also identifying donation centres and places of refuge based on those who helped previously, but also finding others to fill geographical gaps. Megone also drew my attention to draft guidance prepared by the Civil Contingencies Secretariat at the Cabinet Office. Called Guidance for Planning the Involvement of Spontaneous Volunteers in Emergencies, it is 56 pages. More for the bureaucrat than the activist, perhaps.

Meanwhile, York City Council set up an independent inquiry, chaired by the barrister Angharad Davies. The terms of reference include looking at how people, charities and businesses responded to the floods and "to identify improvements which may be made in the future to arrangements for responding to an emergency". The voluntary sector will be at the heart of the plan the council will prepare now the inquiry has reported.

It's great to see the voluntary sector, business and council coming together. Other flood-affected parts of the UK could learn from the work going on in York.

Kevin Curley is a voluntary sector adviser

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