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Then the Flood Came: lessons from the Calderdale appeal

  • For most of us, Boxing Day 2015 was the usual mix of family films and limp leftovers. Sadly, the residents of Calderdale, West Yorkshire witnessed very different scenes.

    Lashing overnight storms saw the River Calder burst it's banks - the results were devastating.  

    That night, the news brought the whole country images of upturned trucks, streets turned into canals and blanketed, huddled people. On seeing these images, many people were moved to offer their support.

    As these events unfolded, Localgiving member, Community Foundation for Calderdale (CFFC), found itself at the centre of this (meteorological and media) storm.

    Through their quick and decisive response, CFFC turned this extra attention into essential funds. As I write, CFFC has raised over £2.5 million to support the community in its recovery. £250,000 of which has come through its Localgiving appeals page. This has made Calderdale Flood Relief Appeal the most successful Localgiving appeal to date.

    We recently spoke to Emma Bolger, Marketing and Events Manager at CFFC, to discuss how they worked with the national media, the impact of the appeal, and any lessons that other local charities could take from their experience.

    Tell us about Community Foundation for Calderdale, your history and what you do?

    CFFC is one of 42 Community Foundations in the UK, we are dedicated to strengthening local communities, creating opportunities and tackling issues of disadvantage and exclusion. We manage funds donated by individuals and organisations, building endowment and acting as the vital link between donors and local needs, connecting people with causes, and enabling clients to achieve far more than they could ever by themselves.

    This year we are celebrating our 25th anniversary in Calderdale, in that time we have  awarded over 8500 grants totalling over  £17m to charities, community groups and individuals in crisis locally.

    How have the funds from your appeal been spent and how will you use the remaining funds?

    We have been overwhelmed by the generosity shown by individuals and businesses from across the UK, within hours of launching our LocalGiving appeal page we had thousands of pounds donated. It is because of those amazing people were able to instantly assist those affected.

    The first thing we did was to purchase and deliver cleaning materials to the worst hit areas, 100’s of sweeping brushes, shovels, bottles of cleaning fluid, mops, buckets, and protective gloves and facemasks to keep those cleaning up safe.

    We then opened a grants program, our first support was £200 emergency grants, and these grants supported people in the immediate aftermath helping them with basic needs such as food and shelter.

    We have also supported people who were displaced by the flooding, many of whom will not be able to live in their own homes for 6-9 months; supporting them with further grants to help them resettle in temporary accommodation.

    After a couple of weeks it became apparent that people in the valley had also lost income with over 1500 local businesses affected. To address this we supported people with hardship grants. We have also supported 103 businesses in their recovery.

    Most recently we have support people with, white goods, carpets and flooring, furniture, and further grants to support them in their recovery. We have supported over 1500 applications from individuals and 130 applications from businesses.

    You were quick off the mark with your reaction the floods.  Did you already have contingency plans for such circumstances? What tips could you give other groups about setting up and coordinating a disaster appeal?

    We led on the 2012 flood appeal in Calderdale, and our Chief Exec has been part of four flood appeals, so we had some experience with raising funds for flooding. However, we have never seen flooding on the scale we did on Boxing Day.

    The experience gained from the other appeals definitely helped us, but there is no amount of planning that can replace the quick thinking and dedication shown by the Community Foundation team. They left their families on Boxing Day, gave up their Christmas break and started to do what they do best, support the community.  From setting up the appeal to processing grants they were here, everyday living and breathing the disaster, coming up with new and imitative ways to support people.

    We learnt a lot from 2012, we knew that time was of the essence, that whatever we did whether it is getting cleaning materials out to people or grants, it had to happen immediately.

    Emma's top tips

    • Act immediately – Gather the team who will work on the project and agree a way forward, give people specific tasks and update each other regularly.
    • Seek and listen to local intelligence – Don’t assume you know what is needed. Communities will tell you what they need, just ask them.
    • Be visible and consistent – Find clear channels for communication, social media email, TV, radio. Be consistent in your messaging; don’t add to the medley of confusion that will inevitably be happening on the ground.


    How did you go about obtaining press coverage during the floods?

    We used every media outlet we could; we contacted them via social media, telephone, and email, every way possible until they listened. We were quick to contact them and to establish our role, quickly we became the go to people to find out what was happening and soon they were calling us.

    What measures did you put in place to deal with the extra coverage you were receiving in this time?

    I was appointed to lead on media coverage. Having one person handling press, interviews, social media proved to be key in keeping the messaging clear. This enabled CFFC  to  build a mutually beneficial relationship with the press .

    What lessons have you learned about working with the national press?

    Find out what angle they want to cover from the start; don’t be afraid to lose an interview because you ask what angle they are pushing. You need to know this so that you can be prepared for the questions.

    Its ok to not answer a question, we were asked to comment on lots of issues that are not relevant to our role in the disaster recovery, for example we were asked to comment on cuts to flood defences. For us this is not the issue at hand. The issue is supporting people in immediate need.

    Do you plan to follow up on the coverage and support you received?

    We have some exciting initiatives launching that have come about because of the flooding. We intend to contact the press again to cover them.

    We are launching a legacy fund – WaterMark Calderdale. Local businesses can sign up to sell a product or service and a percentage of the sale will go in to a fund that will support people in the event of another flood.

    We are also launching an alternative to insurance (a problem for many in Calderdale who can’t get flood insurance) called FloodSave.  Businesses and individuals not covered by FloodRE can apply to become a member.  They save £10/£25/£50 a month with us and, in the event of a flood, we will match fund their savings by 25%.

    To find out more or donate to Community Foundation for Calderdale, you can visit the Calderdale Flood Relief Appeal Here


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