Shropshire woman whose cottage has flooded 17 times in 20 years says community spirit is key

  • Sarah told ITV News Central that community spirit is the key to preparing for floods

Sarah Jackaman and her partner have lived at the 200-year-old Brook Cottage in Montford Bridge, near Shrewsbury, for twenty years.

In that time, she says the cottage has flooded around 17 times, reliably almost every year.

Sarah has since become a 'flood resilience advocate', calling on people to fully prepare for the inevitable when rivers burst their banks.

Watch a time lapse of Brook Cottage flooding in January 2021.

She says the destruction wrought by Storm Babet has been exacerbated by the recent Storm Agnes. She says:

"So when you get two storms back-to-back it'll flood in a slightly different way to Storm Agnes, all the brooks and tributaries were full already, the river was bank-full already from Storm Agnes," Sarah says.

"Here, you go 20, 30 miles up the road you've got all the Welsh hills, so all that water was still coming down to us from Storm Agnes.

"When all that torrential rain hit on Friday [20 October] from this storm, it was landing on already completely-flooded bank-full rivers, streams, and tributaries.

"So there was nowhere for that second storm water to have gone, and that's what caused this flooding, and what's caused it to flood so quickly - the rivers have come up really quickly and the flows are much stronger because of Friday."

L-R: During Storm Agnes, and after the waters subsided. Credit: Sarah Jackaman

It wouldn't be a stretch to ask if Sarah has every considered moving away from the flood-prone banks of the River Severn in Shropshire.

"That's quite a regular question we get asked," she laughs, saying:

"The beauty of living here in the summertime is that its an absolutely magical place to live, the River Severn is a beautiful place.

"It's surrounded by wildlife - just this morning I was looking out the back at the flooded orchards and a kingfisher flew past!

"Last night as the flood waters were just starting to go down you could hear tawny owls in the background.

"So yes, it's a beautiful place to live, but we are getting ridiculously frustrated now with the frequency of these flooding events."

Brook Cottage pictured flooded in January 2021. Credit: Sarah Jackaman

Sarah is a fierce advocate of properly preparing for flooding events - and also credits a strong community spirit for her village's resilience.

"Part of [being a flood resiliency advocate] is being informed and knowledgable on how to read the rivers, how to understand the flows and the peaks," she says:

"Following that river water from the River Severn upriver as you go to Welshpool, Newtown, and up into the Welsh hills".

A solid understanding of why the floods happen - and where they come from, she says, is key.

Sarah says:"Understanding what those river readings mean, understanding what the peaks and flows mean, so you can let all your neighbours, everyone in the area know when the waters are coming and roughly what the peaks are going to be looking like."

And the close community of Montford Bridge plays an important role in getting through tough times.

She says: "For a practical day-to-day, we're a very tight-knit bunch with our neighbours here, we've got five little cottages down here, helping everyone out, lifting up all the furniture, sofas, getting all the cars moved.

"So it's about having a bit of community spirit here, and just being there for one another, but also understanding the dynamics of rivers and how they flood."

It's a huge operation getting belongings out of the way of the floodwater, she says.

"We're able to read the river readings and work out roughly when they're going to be peaking.

"So it's the key things first, getting the cars out the way, and then the essential items like washing machines, ovens, fridge-freezers, getting the big expensive things up. [We] sit them up on trestle tables!

The sofas are put up on trestle tables to protect them from floodwater. Credit: Sarah Jackaman

"And then it's the softer things like getting all the furniture, like sofas et cetera, getting those up and out of the way. So we have a bit of a coordinated approach across the cottages here!"

Sarah says the community pulling together is "a great help and support," with neighbours becoming "very good friends" thanks to the shared experience of battling the floods.

"You are going through exactly the same thing at exactly the same time," she says, "so there is that feeling that you're not in this on your own.

"There's somebody there if you need a quick cup of coffee and a quick perking-up chat - you can just pop round to a neighbour and they'll help you out, they'll lift your spirits up and give you that motivation to carry on lifting up your furniture."

So what can people learn from Sarah's twenty years of flood-proofing experience?

"There's great resources out there, websites like the National Flood Forum," she says, noting that a five-step plan is a good idea.

"The first thing on that plan is making sure key things like your cars are up out of the way, any key valuables, like purses, wallets, you know the key things that you might need, laptops, phones, tablets.

"The second part of that [plan] is things like medications and things like that. It's like a five-point plan to pull that together.

"And they recommend that you write a plan of how you'll put up your furniture [out of the water], how you'll lift everything up out of the way."

Sarah says having a concrete plan can make you feel less worried when flood warnings start to rack up:

"So when you have a structured plan, like a to-do list to follow with everything done in the right order, you'll feel quite in control of what's going on.

"You follow that plan, you put everything in your cottage up, in that order, and nothing gets forgotten, nothing gets missed."

The flooded garden at Brook Cottage. Credit: Sarah Jackaman

Storm Babet has not passed without tragedy - it's estimated that at least four people in the UK have died, including an 83-year-old woman from Chesterfield and a man in his 60s from Cleobury Mortimer.

The Environment Agency says that around 1,250 properties in England have been flooded while an estimated 30,000 properties have needed protection against rising water levels - leaving hundreds of people homeless.

Sarah says awareness needs to be raised on how dangerous flooding can be - and that people should take warnings more seriously.

"A lot of people are not aware of just the power and the impact of a river in flood and how absolutely dangerous a flooded river can be," she says:

"There's been numerous videos going around of people trying to drive their cars to get through flooded water. Also [people] trying to take their dogs for walks and paddling through the water, [they don't know] just how dangerous it can be."

"The flood water can really lift and move very heavy objects and then just dump them down under the water; manhole covers can be lifted, there can be great big holes left in roads and you're merrily walking through them in your wellies.

"So it can be a very dangerous time, but people are utterly unaware of just how powerful and dangerous flooded rivers can be."

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