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How YUSU supported its flood-affected students

Monday 22-08-2016 - 13:40

On Boxing Day 2015, York was hit hard by floods that affected large parts of northern England. Research Development Co-ordinator Stephanie Pearson tells us how University of York Students’ Union responded.

York is known for its flooding and has had large investment in flood defences in previous years, but unprecedented volumes of water compromised the city’s defences.

The devastation caused by what was reported as the worst flooding in York in a generation resulted in 500 flooded homes, 250 families evacuated and businesses losing thousands of pounds of goods and equipment.

Due to the time of year, much of the student population had left York to enjoy the festive period at home. National media attention quickly began to pick up pace as the flooding situation in York worsened. Students outside the city were worried that their term time residences were under water, as Environment Agency warnings were sever across most of York and it was being reported that most of the city was under water.

The union, working in collaboration with the institution, took action to mitigate any unnecessary worry. President Ben Leatham went the extra mile by cutting his Christmas holidays short, returning to York to initiate a union campaign to give students on the ground real time information to reassure students.

The institution provided a dedicated telephone number for students to contact along with ensuring all students that anyone flooded would be provided with temporary accommodation.

The union supported getting the message out through its channels, however when the telephone exchange was flooded, landline telephone and broadband Wi-Fi internet services were either intermittent or non-existent. Working remotely, Community and Well-being Officer Scott Dawson communicated the challenges and cut through the noise by coordinating clear and practical guidance from the Environment Agency and the city council.

On his return to York, Ben got on his bike! He cycled around student housing areas, taking pictures and encouraging concerned students to get in touch with him via social media so he could visit their property to let them know the situation. Working in collaboration with student newspaper Nouse, the pictures Ben took were then uploaded to a real-time feed along with important practical information, advice, guidance and a discussion board. This useful tool was accessed by students and the local community, receiving over 50,000 hits in three days.

Users commented:

Thank you Ben! You are a star! This is such a relief! - University of York Student

An excellent and helpful piece of work. Well done and thank you. - Student housing provider Sinclair Properties

I know York well from the 50s and 60s. I have relatives living on Tang Hall. This service must reassure lots of families who have students attending the Universities in York. Well done. - David Ward

YUSU is now working with the Environment Agency to improve the flood warning system in the city and support the development of wider community responses that provide on the ground real-time information. In addition to this YUSU is supporting the Environment Agency to get flood information, advice and guidance included in all student tenancy sign up packs.

Following the floods York experienced a high fall in tourist numbers, believed to be due to the media reporting the city as inaccessible and completely under water. YUSU worked with the tourist organisation Make it York to spread the message that York was up and running. YUSU asked students to post pictures from around the city under its Love York hashtag to show the city was recovering from the flooding and get the message out that the city was back open for business. In addition to this the elected officers shared posts that York was recovering well.

To support the clean-up effort, Ben also set up a volunteering mailing list. 370 students signed up and this was shared with the council. Claire Newhouse, Director at Higher York, the partnership body bringing together education providers and the city council, said:

‘The commitment to students, other residents, businesses and the wider City was admirable. As a local resident myself, I was amazed to see images of Ben in local media – touring the City on his bicycle with the sole purpose of reassuring those students who were not in York!

‘Many of the returning students have perhaps not realised how instrumental Ben was in ensuring that information was shared and emergency systems were established.

'In addition, students of the University of York provided much needed hands-on practical support which was necessary in some of the affected communities; without YUSU’s coordination, I truly believe that this would not have been possible. I believe that the work Ben and team did to support the local area should be commended.’

In total, sixty students were flooded, all of whom were quickly re-homed before the new term started and supported to get back on track.

For NUS advice on how students can prepare for the risk of flooding, see here.

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Campaigns, Features, Sustainability, Welfare

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