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    Business in the Community (BITC)

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Business Connector Jane Wilson on the response to the effects of Storm Desmond and the role of the Business Emergency Resilience Group (BERG)

Business Connectors are talented individuals seconded from business and the Civil Service and placed in local communities of greatest need. Jane Wilson is Cumbria’s first Business Connector. Jane, who was seconded from United Utilities, reflects on the clean-up operation in her home county in the wake of Storm Desmond – including the role played by Business in the Community, a charity of which HRH The Prince of Wales is President. 

Before Christmas I wrote on Business in the Community (BITC)’s website about the immediate and devastating impacts of Storm Desmond across Cumbria, exploring what the long-term response might be from business and the wider community. 

Today, the first buds of spring have appeared and the recovery is well underway with ongoing repairs to properties, roads and bridges. 

Life’s starting to return to normal here. There’s nothing like seeing one company after another getting back on their feet thanks to the sheer tenacity of their owners. 

Few businesses escaped being directly or indirectly affected by the flooding. My home company, United Utilities, was hit after a water treatment site came under difficulty.

Since the floods, west coast businesses including Sellafields have helped in places such as Carlisle, Cockermouth and Keswick and I’ve heard examples of a similar response from smaller organisations across the county. 

It would be fair to say, however, that the response has been faster in areas which had previously been affected by flooding than in places where the devastation was new. 

Business in the Community responds

To aid a more long-term and coordinated response following last winter’s disaster, I’ve been working with The Prince’s Business Emergency (BERG) at BITC. BERG’s member organisations have been providing support within those communities mostly affected across northern England and Scotland, including here in my hometown of Kendal in Cumbria. 

BERG is also working closely with the UK and Scottish Government agencies responsible for the distribution of financial support to those impacted by the floods. The recent winter storms resulted in £3 billion in UK Government grant funding being allocated for flood protection. As part of this funding, up to £5000 is available per household or business affected by the winter floods in northern England for resilient repairs (known as the Property Level Flood Resilience Grant Scheme).

BERG has worked with South Lakeland District Council and Local Authorities across England to give residents more clarity on the different grants available and increase their uptake. The purpose of the grants is to help properties recover more quickly following a flood impact, both to prevent flood water from entering properties and to speed the recovery if it does.  

Partnering with Adler & Allan, BERG created an advisory service in a pop-up cabin – outside Kendal’s Asda store – which is essentially an Advice Centre and information hub for residents who can discuss the most suitable grant on offer for the future defence work. Adler & Allan is offering surveyors to go out and undertake a resilience survey. So whilst the cabin is about funding advice, the work there is very much about effective signposting for people.

The Advice Centre has been a great success, and will now be rolled out to two other Local Authority areas running the Property Level Resilience Grant Scheme. 

A more aligned response will help future disasters

It’s worth saying that many homeowners have still not been able to return to their homes, for two main reasons. Firstly, from a practical point of view: put simply, it takes a long time to dry out a home. Secondly, residents have to wait on insurers, loss adjusters, contractors, among others in the recovery chain.

And the recovery operation isn’t just about replacing damaged items on a like-for-like basis; it’s recognising the benefit that the right repairs now will bring in the longer term so I would encourage residents to utilise the advice on offer with BERG. 

A further learning for next time would be to ensure that full pre-written flood recovery plans, agreed by the community, are in place across the whole of our county. 

A strong response from the voluntary sector

Kendal is in the district of South Lakeland and a shining light in the area has been the response by members of the Sandylands Community, who have lead the way in looking after the residents in their local area. 

A further positive has been the collaborative response shown by voluntary sector organisations (including Age UK, CAB and the Red Cross) in South Lakeland, collectively known as Gateway, and the local and county council. 

For me, the recent events have been particularly emotive. I was seconded last June from United Utilities – who’ve supported the Business Connector programme since it began in 2011 – having spent my early years in Barrow-in-Furness. Dad worked on the subs at the coastal town, so as soon as I knew about the opportunity to be a Business Connector and make a real difference in my own county I jumped at the chance to be involved.

During my secondment I’ve often seen examples of the “spirit of Cumbria” which gained traction after the response to the disaster, but there is plenty more to do to tackle some of the chronic deprivation issues in the area. 

Throughout my time as a Business Connector I feel that I have learned so much about society, responsible business and myself, and I'm truly looking forward to being able to share that knowledge with my United Utilities colleagues when I return to being Area Engineering Manager in Cumbria in less than 3 months’ time.

The Business Connector programme, funded by the BIG Lottery, is creating a network of Connectors across England and Scotland. To learn more about it, please click here.

For more about the work of BITC’s Business Emergency Resilience Group, click here.

Residents can find out more about BERG’s dedicated Advice Centres by contacting their local authority directly to apply for the funding. Further information can be found on the BERG website.