Ground-breaking research examining the long term effect of flooding on people’s lives has been made into a short film to show how research can impact policy. 

As local councils brace themselves for the estimated £400m repair bill for damage caused by the storms and flooding over the Christmas period, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) has released a film showing the importance of planning for the emotional aftermath of devastating floods. 

In the film - Life after Flooding - Dr Rebecca Whittle, lecturer at the Lancaster Environment Centre, explains that the aftermath of flooding is often as traumatic as the floods themselves.

“It’s about that long and very protracted recovery period. It’s about that secondary trauma of having to deal with insurers and builders - trying to recover some semblance of normal family life”. 

Beccy, with her colleague Dr Marion Walker, returned to Hull to make the film, which documents how people responded to devastating floods that hit the city in 2007, when the city received a sixth of its annual rainfall in just 12 hours. More than 10,500 homes were evacuated and many people couldn’t return home for more than two years. The Hull Flood Project researchers asked 50 of those who had been severely affected to keep a diary, and brought them together for regular group discussions.

Gordon and Jacky Dixon, two of the diarists, also took part in the film, reliving their feelings on the day that precious belongings, which they had had all their married lives, were carried away in a council crusher lorry after being ruined by the floods.

Marion, a senior research associate at the Lancaster Environment Centre, remembers how parents and teachers were also worried about youngsters who had been displaced. She says: “We realised then that it was important to  talk to the children and young people to find out how they were coping”.

So they encouraged them to draw and write  storyboards about their experiences.  The researchers found it was a very therapeutic way for the youngsters to deal with their trauma.

Ian Lamb, Education Coordinator for Hull City Council says: “It allowed us to work in a more emotional way. I think if we hadn’t done that with these children then certainly their outcomes and attainment would have suffered.”

The findings and recommendations of the Hull Flood Project have influenced government policy and have also been taken up by Save the Children, UK. The NGO asked the researchers to work with them to develop a set of resources for use with children and young people and their carers, to help them deal with their emotions  after a disaster.  

Jacky Clake, head of communications at Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), said the Lancaster research was an obvious choice for the ESRC Impact Video series, which showcases research that has a marked impact on policy or practice.

“The Hull Floods Project has had major influence both on the Pitt Review and the national framework for community resilience - not to mention the development of new resource material for Save the Children.

“As well as highlighting the value of our research to the general public and to our policymakers, we also hope they serve as an inspiration to academics – as examples of how research can have an influence far beyond academia.”

Marion said that returning to Hull and meeting up with the people was an emotional and uplifting experience.  She was particularly pleased to meet up with 17-year-old Jack Stelloo, who had taken part in the children’s project, and to see that he is now flourishing and doing well.

The wider project team included: Professor Gordon Walker, Professor Maggie Mort, Dr Will Medd, Dr Nigel Watson and Dr Elham Kashefi (all from Lancaster University), Dr Clare Twigger-Ross (Collingwood Environmental Planning),  Sue Tapsell (Middlesex University),  Ms Jo Moran-Ellis and Dr Kate Burningham (University of Surrey) and Dr Hugh Deeming (Northumbria University, formerly Lancaster University)

View the Life after Flooding film and read the ESRC impact case study of the Hull Floods Project, which won an ESRC Celebrating Impact prize last year. The project was also funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and The Environment Agency.