While the water on the Somerset levels may have receded, the multi-agency presence and strong sense of the community that was in place throughout the flooding remains.
In particular, Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service has been working closely with the Somerset Village Agent for the Muchelney area. Village Agents are trusted members of the community employed by The Community Council for Somerset. They live within their parish clusters and their job is to visit all the local groups, taking the time to develop relationships so they can identify the vulnerable members of the community. The village agents then recommend the vulnerable to the appropriate agencies and services to solve their problems and improve the quality of their lives.
This partnership has proved invaluable throughout the flooding as Village Agent Carolyn Roche from Muchelney explains: “When the water first started to appear on the roads it quickly became apparent that we might get cut off. After last year floods we had set in place a really good email communication network within Muchelney, Muchelney Ham and Thorney. We send round an email the day before the water started to go into the houses, advising everyone to get their furniture off the floor if their property flooded last year and that we would be sending round groups to see if anyone needed help.
“That same day I also knocked on the doors of the people who I knew were most vulnerable – so the elderly, people on oxygen, the disabled – and asked if they wanted to stay or go. We then organised 4 x 4 ambulances for everyone who wanted to go, before the flood water made it impassable; this action saved a possible calling out of the air ambulance at a later stage.”
The Village Agent email contact list and the information that Carolyn collected on who was in and who was out and what their requirements were has been a useful resource for all the agencies involved.
Carolyn continues: “At the start, we really thought the longest we would be trapped for was two weeks, like last year. So people were really coping at first, but then we realised the water was clearly going nowhere and various issues became apparent, like social care issues and also our food supplies started to run out.
“Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service has been a reassuring pressure throughout, by continually letting the residents know that the emergency services are on hand and that they know how to get to us if there are any problems. We were told to not lose sleep worrying about a possible fire or medical emergency; we were being looked after. We are very grateful to all the agencies involved, as well as everyone else that has been helping.”
Mike Toop, Crew Manager for Yeovil, adds: “We become involved with Muchelney in April 2012 after the winter floods, which identified a need to conduct door-to-door home fire safety visits as part of a multi-agency approach. This meant if due to flooding we weren’t able to get the fire engines here as quickly as we would like, the home fire safety visits would reduce the chance of a fire occurring in the first place.
“This was more of a holistic home fire safety visit – so not just in the traditional sense of the standard ‘smoke detector’ visit but also installing carbon monoxide detectors, giving advice and reducing the risk from fire within the property. We also identified and referred any of the home owners to our partner agencies that needed care.
“The partnership with the village agents has proved invaluable to all the agencies, as Carolyn flagged up to us more vulnerable people who needed home visits, like a gentlemen who needed a deaf smoke alarm two days into the flooding.
“We have used Carolyn’s email system to distribute information around the villages throughout the flooding from all the agencies. This has proved a very effective way to communicate, as neighbours have a buddy system where they pass on any information to those who are not online.
“As time went on during the flood and the water was not going anywhere, we then became involved in going from door-to-door again. At that stage we were checking up on things like was their fuel lasting out, really on anything they might need. This identified a number of residents that had not been spoken to due to being on holiday or had moved to dry land. So we went through Carolyn’s list to ensure we had spoken to everyone. The Village Agent scheme has worked really well as such a large proportion of our risk groups are either remote by geography or demography.”
For more information on Village Agents please visit Village Agents. http://somersetrcc.org.uk/somerset-village-agents-project/