Volunteers save the day



Local volunteers come to the rescue during floods in Berkshire.

Flooding in the village of Wraysbury, Middlesex, recently went from bad to worse. With emergency services stretched to near breaking point, local volunteers rolled up their sleeves and stepped in to save the day.

Taking the lead

When water flooded the streets in the quiet village of Wraysbury due to the overflowing of the estuary bypass, residents panicked. With the emergency services unable to get to the village straight away due to the high demand in calls from other flooded areas, Berkshire Scouts County Chairman, Mark Foster, took control of the situation.

‘I’m a local flood volunteer,’ says Mark, who is a resident of Wraysbury. ‘I was loading sandbags in the village when disaster hit and the floods got worse. I was out in the canoe with a paramedic friend of mine and we had to rescue people from their homes. At around lunchtime the next day we went to the flood centre, which was in the local primary school, and there was no organization; the full emergency services were still unavailable.’

Mark, together with the local flood warden, Dave Francis (also a former Scout) and a group of quick-thinking volunteers, turned the situation around, taking the lead and transforming the school into a fully-functioning flood centre complete with a helpline to the local community. 

‘I used my organisational skills from Scouting and helped co-ordinate a centre for the general public,’ says Mark.

Liaising with local residents and calling in help from local volunteers, Mark and his team became a temporary emergency service.

‘The flood centre was a drop-in with teas, coffees and blankets and we got charity donations organised too. We set up a call centre so people could phone in and ask for things they needed, like food parcels. We also gave out advice; there were a lot of older people who just didn’t know what to do so we were trying to reassure them and help in any way we could.’

A volunteer-led operation

When the full emergency services did turn up, which consisted of the police, the army and the fire brigade, they saw what a great job the volunteers had done and kept them involved in the plans going forward.

‘We worked with the army and they did what we asked,’ says Mark. ‘Our local knowledge was better and we obviously knew the local community. It was very much a volunteer-led operation.’

Mark continues: ‘It’s been unbelievable. We had an emergency meeting, which involved the head of the fire services, the ambulance crews, a Major from the army, the police, Ed Miliband and me and the volunteers – it was very surreal.’

The Wraysbury incident could well become the model for future emergency situations, where local volunteers like the Scouts become the first port of call for help.

‘A senior representative from the Environment Agency was saying that the plan is going to change in the future in regards to how volunteers can be of greater use during major incidents,’ says Mark. ‘For example, we [volunteers] can avoid red tape. Certain emergency services can’t tell other services what to do, but volunteers can walk up to an emergency service and advise them what to do and they will do it.’

Empowering volunteers to help others is very much at the heart of Scouting and it’s this positive, can-do attitude that helped the people of Wraysbury deal with disaster.

‘It’s been about giving people the power to help themselves and realising that in times of crisis there aren’t always enough emergency services available,’ says Mark. ‘The local skills and knowledge of local volunteers are key to making the emergency services feel supported.’

If you and your Scouts have been involved in helping flood victims, let us know: scouting.magazine@scouts.org.uk

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