When flooding swept the UK this month, Bedford Borough Council’s Resilience team were on duty keeping our towns and villages safe. But what do they do when heavy rainfall threatens our homes and roads? We spoke to Senior Flood Risk Officer Melanie Bright for an insight into her role.
Melanie and the team are constantly monitoring river levels and rain forecasts throughout the year to be prepared for any flooding that may occur. On the evening of New Years Day into the early hours of 2 January, 17mm of rainfall fell on an already-saturated catchment which led to surface water flooding across a number of our northern villages.
The team started going out to these locations to assess the impact as well as to offer support and advise to residents. The team were also immediately in contact with the community flood groups in Carlton, Riseley, Yielden, Harrold, Odell, Clapham and Turvey. The groups are made up of volunteers in local areas and play a key role as the eyes and ears of the Council, creating greater resilience in each community.
With the flashing catchments like Riseley and Yielden, “the river levels were rising quickly, and we were in touch to see what other support they needed from the Council,” explained Melanie. “Every flood group has a flood plan in place which details what action that group will take during a flood event. They also have a ‘flood kit’ to support them.
“They’re our eyes and ears, who can tell us the situation on the ground in a matter of minutes - far faster than we could all get out to every village – when those first few hours are vital in coordinating our response. They’re ordinary people, who care about their communities and helping each other. Plus they know their flood risk and their community much better than us
“During any flood event we also work closely with other council departments, like Highways, and with other emergency services. Coordinating our response, closing roads clearing any blockages, offering support and information, and going out to places that are affected, is absolutely key.”
Each day brought its own challenges as the rain continued to fall throughout the week, and each town and village had its own needs too. Particularly as the flood risk moved from surface water flooding to fluvial flooding from the River Great Ouse as levels started to rise reacting to the rainfall. For Melanie and the team, that meant working around the clock.
She said: “We went out to any place that had flooding. We have emergency pods in Mowsbury Park and Harrold-Odell Country Park, with a stock of aqua sacs which we distribute to those homes which we could take to homes which were at imminent risk of flooding. Again, we coordinate this with our Highways and Environment teams to help reach all those in need. Following the Flood Warning from Bedford that was receiving we were also in Bedford Town Centre ensuring riverside properties had their own flood defences installed and provide information.
“There are some hotspot areas which are always the most likely to be affected, and are at risk of surface water flooding or fluvial flooding from a river, but new areas often come up which we then need to investigate going forward to understand how and why the flooding occurred. That helps our response, and it helps us to tackle deeper issues once the flooding is over.”
Since the most recent flooding, communities in Podington and communities in Kempston have also approached Bedford Borough Council about forming their own flood groups. And anyone else who is interested in doing so can find out more by emailing email@example.com
Sarah Stevens, Bedford Borough Council’s Manager for Community Safety & Resilience said: “Melanie was just one member of a brilliant team who played a key role in keeping people across the Borough safe and well.
“Melanie, Steve Kuc, Ollie Ewington, and Jeff Carter all deserve special praise, but so do all the other staff who volunteered to be on stand-by throughout the week, our highways teams that were out throughout – and, of course, our flood groups.
“They showed the dedication of our staff and are a credit to the Council.”
See our report flooding webpage to find out more about how to report flooding in Bedford Borough.