Floods of tears

16 March 2010

In June 2007, the east coast city of Hull was devastated by flooding which claimed the life of one man and displaced thousands of families from their homes. Now a unique study sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council's (ESRC) Festival of Social Science (12-21 March) is aiming to understand how the flood and its aftermath affected one key section of the community whose voice is seldom heard: children and young people.

Researchers from Lancaster University have interviewed nearly 50 youngsters from Hull, aged between nine and 19, to discover what impact the flood had on them. The youngsters were invited to create a 'storyboard' of their experiences and memories - a narrative in words and pictures - allowing the researchers to pick up on the factors that had the most profound impact on the young people.

"We wanted to give children and young people a voice about the flood recovery process," said lead researcher Dr Marion Walker. "We found that it is as stressful for the children as it is for the adults. At the start of the flood it was exciting for the children - even moving out of their homes and into a caravan was an adventure at first; however this exhilaration soon subsided."

With schools being closed, many children had to move to neighbouring schools which separated them from their friends. Living conditions at home could be fraught as families were forced to occupy only a few rooms in the house. "For some children their mother's house was flooded, so was their father's and so was their school - it was a kind of triple whammy which was highly distressing for them," said Dr Walker.

The research, which has also received funding from the Environment Agency and Hull City Council, is currently being analysed and the storyboards and transcribed interviews will be archived as a valuable historical resource. In addition, the findings will be forwarded to social policymakers so that any lessons on the impact of flooding on young people can be taken into account in the future.

As part of the Festival of Social Science organised to showcase cutting edge social science research, the Lancaster team will be staging interactive workshops at two schools in Lancashire and one in Cumbria which will focus on the experiences of the young people in Hull. "We felt that rather than an adult speaking to the children about what had happened, it would bring it alive much more and make it more relevant if they heard the words of another 14-year-old," said Dr Walker.

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Notes for editors

  1. After the rain:
    • Organiser: Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University
    • Venue: Central Lancaster High School and Morecambe Community High School
    • Audience: Young people
  2. The Lancaster University project is entitled 'Children, Flood and Urban Resilience: Understanding Children's and Young People's Experience and Agency in the Flood Recovery Process', (ESRC grant reference no. RES-177-25-0009). The project leader is Dr Will Medd, the lead researcher Dr Marion Walker and researcher Dr Rebecca Whittle.
  3. The Festival of Social Science is run by the Economic and Social Research Council which runs from 12 to 21 March 2010, alongside National Science and Engineering Week. Events from some of the country's leading social scientists the festival celebrates the very best of British Social Science research and how it influences our social, economic and political lives - both now and in the future. The Festival of Social Science provides insight into research in a variety of formats; from traditional lectures and exhibitions to theatrical performances, film screenings and topical debates. The Festival of Social Science is aimed at a range of different audiences, including policymakers, business, the media, the general public and students of all ages.
  4. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2009/10 is £204 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.