Extreme flooding in Yorkshire: how a team effort helped the local community recover

This article highlights some of the ways of FCN, working with other rural charities and organisations, was able to provide relief and support to those affected by the Reeth Floods. Our story begins on 30th July, 2019…

82.2mm of rainfall in 24 hours caused extreme flooding in Swaledale, particularly the catchment of the Arkle beck which joins the main river Swale between Reeth and Grinton.

Access roads were impassable due to flooding or collapsed bridges. The flooding affected private dwellings, small businesses as well as over 30 farms with significant damage/loss. Silage bales and livestock were washed away as well as walls, fences and stone built barns. A lot of debris, including stone from drystone walls and streams gouged out by the volume of water littered field including the Reeth show ground and the venue of the Ard Rock Mountain Bike festival scheduled to be held at Reeth the coming weekend.

Amazingly there was no loss of life – but 300 homes, 30 businesses and 50 farms were estimated to be affected to some extent. The event was classified as a 1 in a 100 year occurrence with flooding of a “biblical scale”.

Initial response

It was not easy for emergency services to reach those in need due to the depth of the flooding. Swaledale Mountain Rescue Team were quickly mobilised to remove people to safety. The second Battalion Yorkshire Regiment arrived to assist with the clean-up operation. Reeth Memorial Hall was opened as a refuge centre for those who had to leave their homes.

The most urgent need was to scope the scale of the damage and the remediation that would be needed. FCN and the National Farmers’ Union were on the ground the next day. The NFU contingency plan was implemented based on the local group office at Leyburn and led by the group secretary Lindsey-Anne Murfin. This would record damage to infrastructure as well as loss of forage and livestock and covered NFU members and non-members. Importantly, whilst collecting this information the NFU gained permission for FCN volunteers to visit affected farmers. Helen Benson coordinated the support from Yorkshire FCN group arranging for a small group of volunteers to visit all the affected farmers.

Rishi Sunak MP visited the scene and saw the devastation first-hand. This was important as he later supported the NFU and FCN call for Flood Recovery Fund support.

Wide coverage of the event on National News brought financial support through public donations and nearly £50,000 from the organisers of the Ard Rock Festival. This initially came to a local fund, but it was soon clear that a larger regional charity would be needed to handle the sums involved.

Next steps

A lot of different organisations were becoming involved in the recovery operation:

  • Richmondshire District Council
  • North Yorks County Council
  • York, North Yorkshire and East Ridings Enterprise Partnership.
  • Yorkshire Dales National Park
  • Environment Agency
  • Yorkshire Water
  • NFU
  • NFU Mutual
  • FCN
  • Forage Aid
  • RABI
  • Addington Fund
  • Prince’s Countryside Fund
  • Defra (Flood Recovery Fund)

A meeting was organised at Leyburn Auction Mart on 7th August to bring all these organisations together in one place to enable those affected to seek advice and assistance. It was an opportunity to ensure that the spread sheet recorded all the key information such as addresses, Single Business Identifiers (SBI), extent of damage (measurements of walls damaged, areas of debris and damaged or destroyed infrastructure such as bridges) as well as lost livestock and haylage bales.

It was becoming obvious that a partnership approach was the way forward but that it needed a lead partner to make this happen. From the farming point of view this was the NFU, assisted by FCN. At this stage Forage Aid were arranging the logistics of removing contaminated silage and providing replacement winter feed. £2,000 was allocated to each affected farm by the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Enterprise partnership towards initial recovery costs. A team of FCN volunteers coordinated by Helen Benson and led by Pauline Broadwith visited all the affected farms.

Like many other natural disasters, the Swaledale Floods were a “5 day wonder” and then disappeared from the national news agenda. This is perhaps when the support of FCN and the NFU was most critical in helping the farming community to recover and rebuild. This included drop-in sessions with other agencies . A key morale booster was the help from Young Farmer Clubs to remove debris from field and, in particular to clear and repair the walls so that the Reeth show could go ahead a few weeks after the event.

Flood recovery fund

The NFU led the way in meetings with the RPA and EA. This was firstly to make an application to the FRF but also to ensure that the eligibility requirements, application process and claim procedure fitted the Swaledale event. The immediacy of repair work meant that the usual funding approach that work should not start until the application had been approved was not appropriate. Progress on this had to be communicated to farmers but they also needed encouragement to apply (“there are others worse off”) and support with the application process (paperwork, computers, evidence, submission) as well as reminders on dates and deadlines.  The deadline for applications was 31st March 2020, by which time flooding fatigue was affecting some farmers.

Charitable support

Public sympathy and donations was huge, especially from the many regular participants in the Ard Rock Bike Festival. There were also concerts, auctions and a Gala Dinner with a charity auction put on to raise funds. Two Ridings Community Fund were appointed to administer the funds raised. This was for all those in need of flood relief support and not just the farming community. TRCF had not dealt with such a rural event before. Their criteria had been developed to deal with individual more urban scenarios. It was based on personal asset values which, when applied to farming businesses, would have ruled out practically all of them.

FCN (Regional Director) and NFU (Group Secretary) met with the TRCF panel to explain the impact on farms, what insurance might be in place, what the FRF could support and where the deficits were. This secured a ring-fenced budget from the fund to support farmers. A process was put forward for allocating funding to farmers that proved to be acceptable to TRCF’s charitable aims and objectives. This was £1,000 to each affected farm and £5,000 for those with repair costs exceeding £25,000.

TRCF applications were administered by FCN and NFU. They were also willing to trust FCN and NFU to verify and sign off applications. This was largely done through hosting three evening drop-ins for farmers when they could also have a pint and a chat.

Local communities inevitably have local interests and groups that do not always see eye to eye or work together. There was an element of this in Reeth when people started to get over the initial shock with some friction between farmers and local residents without any insurance receiving financial support. However, this is more than offset by the strong network with diverse and robust contacts that is there for the future.

Key reasons why this approach worked

  • Those involved in supporting were quick off the mark
  • Partnership working with regular communication using emails and social media as well as meetings
  • Awareness and regular reviews
  • Appreciation and understanding of everyone’s role and involvement – this enabled honest and open working with no duplication
  • Leadership: Lindsey-Anne (NFU group secretary), Helen Benson (former FCN Coordinator) and Pauline Broadwith (FCN overseeing caseworker) provided this.

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