UK weather: The rise of the flood volunteer

From the pub landlord in Somerset to farmers sharing food for their cattle, Jamie Merrill hears the stories of everyday heroism

These days the locals at the King Alfred pub in Burrowbridge are more concerned with sandbags, dredging policy and pumps, than with the five local ales behind the bar.

That's because they are members of a new army of flood volunteers rescuing flooded homeowners, laying down sandbags, delivering supplies and even building temporary new paths through the flood waters.

The fields that surround the pub in the heart of the Somerset Levels have been a watery world of cut off submerged homes and closed roads for more than two months now, and while the Environment Agency (EA) and military battled to hold back rising water levels on Friday, the volunteers were just busy.

At the centre of that relief effort was landlord Jim Winkworth, a member of the Flooding on the Levels Action Group (FLAG).

He told The Independent, "It all started with a meeting in the pub when we realised quite how bad the floods were likely to hit us, and it has snowballed from there.

"None of us are professionals at this, but we knew something needed to be done and there was nobody in authority who was going to help us."

Volunteers arrive with donations at the King Alfred Inn at Burrowbridge on the Somerset Levels Volunteers arrive with donations at the King Alfred Inn at Burrowbridge on the Somerset Levels (Getty Images) Since the worst of the flooding hit last week the group has been overwhelmed with aid donations and its blue hoodies are a familiar sight on the Somerset Levels, where it has become not just a pro-dredging campaign group but practically an emergency service.

Again on Friday the pub was a flurry of activity with volunteers laying sandbags and building a new footpath, with the help of several dozen Royal Marines from 40 Commando.

In a rare victory against the waters the group created a new riverside footpath last weekend. According to Mr Winkworth from "concept to completion" the project,  which uses sandbags and wood chip, took just 24 hours. Fittingly, the path - which has reconnected the two ends of the village - has been dubbed the Winkworth Way by locals.

It's not just locals at work in Burrowbridge though. Ravi Singh who works for the Sikh charity Khalsa Aid, has been in the village for over a week after seeing its plight on television.

He is used to working in Somalia and Haiti but said, "The situation here in Burrowbridge really does have to be seen to be believed - it's like a scene from disaster movie."

Like the dozens of other volunteers Mr Singh has been lending a hand but stands out he said jokingly "as the only turban in the village". He added, "The community here is amazing. Volunteering has become contagious."

Volunteers sort out food donations in the King Alfred Inn at Burrowbridge on the Somerset Levels Volunteers sort out food donations in the King Alfred Inn at Burrowbridge on the Somerset Levels (Getty Images) Away from what the locals call the "flood frontline" on the River Parrett volunteer Rebecca Horsington is at work in nearby Bridgwater organising another arm of the volunteers work.

She is working with the National Union of Farmers to organise the massive effort to get in enough supplies of silage, hay and straw for the animals on the area's flood hit farms.

Normally Ms Horsington is a farm secretary, but since January she's been bringing in forage from donor farms as far away as Yorkshire and Derbyshire.

She said, "The local people here have really pulled together and we have been continually surprised by the generosity of the farming community across the country who are getting in touch on Facebook and Twitter to help.

"We even had an offers of the use of an entire farm in Essex and a load of hay from Aberdeen. It's been just amazing."

Like Mr Winkworth however, she's keen to stress she's an "amateur" who "has no idea" what she is doing but that local people felt they "had no choice" but to take action, when support from the local council and Environment Agency wasn't initially forthcoming.

Volunteers take refreshments at the King Alfred Inn at Burrowbridge on the Somerset Levels Volunteers take refreshments at the King Alfred Inn at Burrowbridge on the Somerset Levels (Getty Images)  

She said, "We're an action group who want to see the rivers dredged, we never imagined we'd have to become the Somerset branch of the Red Cross."

Earlier in the week though tragedy struck as two lorries laden with hay bound for flooded Somerset crashed during week’s storms, with one driver on a mercy mission dying.

This spirit of flood volunteering isn't just restricted to the Somerset Levels. In Surrey a prisoner serving four a half years for mortgage fraud was released so he could volunteer in the flood-hit community. Lee Cooper was released after he suggested the idea to the governor of HMP Coldingley and is helping fill sandbags and deliver supplies in a Egham church hall.

While in Worcester resident Christian Gander and his neighbours on Waterworks Road, where typical of many, supporting each other and even setting up a nightly "flood watch".

He said, "The Environment Agency has got a lot of stick, but there are some things you have to take responsibility for yourself."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
News
David Ryall in Harry Potter
people
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Wayne Rooney warms up ahead of the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane
football
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Assistant

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have previous experience...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Administrator

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015