Living with the fear of “what if we flooded?” “


The next time the river level in York begins to rise, think about Selena Whitehead and her family.

The Whiteheads live in what Selena calls a “fun, quirky house”. It dates back to 1850, and Selena, her husband Peter, and children Lucas and Kizzy love to live there. “It would never occur to us to move,” said Selena.

But there is a price to pay. The house is near the River Ouse – and it has a history of flooding. It was flooded in 2012 – then again on Boxing Day 2015.

“The floodwater was about three feet high each time, reaching the top of the living room fireplace and the second kitchen drawer,” Selena said.

The Whiteheads’ house after being flooded

“We had an old Victorian floor and when the first flood came it practically burst. We had insurance and they had to replace it with modern flood proof flooring. The same happened with the living room floor the second time we flooded.

“The first time around, it was really painful to see a huge pile of stuff destroyed. We thought we saved things because we put them on the couch, but it was floating in the living room.

Perhaps as painful as the flood itself were the long and frustrating waits for their house to be repaired. “We moved for six months each time,” said Selena.

The first time, the expert sent by the insurance company appointed a builder. “So the builder didn’t answer me and I was tearing my hair out, it was so frustrating,” said Selena.

Having learned the lesson, the second time the Whiteheads were flooded, Selena asked the adjuster if they could handle the recovery process on their own. “It meant I was able to be on the builder’s case and relentlessly harass them about when we might be back,” she said.

York Press:

Whiteheads’ refrigerator floating in the wake of a flood

But it was still difficult. The first time around, the family moved into a downtown apartment while their house was being repaired.

“But the kids struggled because there was no outside space,” Selena said. “The second time was horrible; we tried to find a place near schools and the kid’s friends but it didn’t work out that way and we all really struggled with it.

After being inundated twice, Selena and Peter decided, after the family returned, that they had to do something.

“Something that was supposed to be one thing every 100 years has happened to us twice in three years! said Selena.

They began to consider the possibility of making their homes more “flood resistant” – that is, better able to withstand flood water and easier and faster to clean afterwards.

They did some research. And since that second flood, they have introduced several “resilience measures” – some out of their own pockets, others with the help of grants from the Environment Agency.

They include washable wall tiles, a flood-resistant stainless steel kitchen, raised electrical outlets, tiled floors, internal pumps and removable flood barriers.

York Press:

Wall panels hinged normally (left) and when lifted (right)

Perhaps the most innovative of all is the hinged paneling on the lower part of the walls. The paneling can be raised in the event of a flood threat; the aluminum feet allow it to stand above flood water level, making it a convenient surface on which to place items.

The stainless steel kitchen was expensive, Selena admits. “But we decided that we’d rather spend more money on a kitchen that wouldn’t make a lot of garbage later, because it will happen again. I had lost two kitchens in four years. From an environmental point of view, it was criminal to throw away so many things. ”

Their new flood-resistant home has yet to be put to the test – although there have been false alarms.

“This past February we had a horrible month, with multiple flood alerts,” said Selena. “It was an emotional roller coaster, although it never actually flooded. We also had a flood alert this year.

But the family decided they just had to get on with their lives. “We don’t live with this perpetual fear of” what if we flood? “” said Selena. “You have to be able to put that aside and knowing that we have flood resilience measures in place definitely makes it easier. ”

York Press:

The Whiteheads Flood Resistant Stainless Steel Kitchen

There are countless homes in York still at risk of flooding, of course, despite the various flood protection projects carried out by the Environment Agency.

To help educate homeowners about steps they could take to protect their homes and make them better able to withstand flood water, a new project called Yorkshire Flood Resilience was launched early last year.

Funded by Defra and led by York City Council, the aim of the project was to raise awareness among Yorkshire home and business owners about flood resilience measures and their benefits.

The original idea was to organize face-to-face meetings with Yorkshire communities. But then Covid struck. The project team, led by York Council Flood Risk Manager Steve Wragg, changed course and, instead of meeting people face to face, decided to create a counseling website.

It includes everything from animations explaining what Flood Resilience is, how it works and its benefits, suggestions on how to protect your home and real case studies from all over Yorkshire. There is also an educational game for children and a series of online training modules.

The team then bombarded social media channels. Between December 2020 and July 2021 alone, they estimate they have reached nearly two million people across Yorkshire. As lockdown restrictions started to ease this year, they were then able to do other things – including attending the Great Yorkshire Show and hosting two ‘climate cafe’ events, one in York, the other in Hull.

The project officially ended yesterday. A team of national project evaluators will now spend three months evaluating it – and strive to learn useful lessons that can be shared with other local authorities.

York Press:

Yorkshire Flood Resilience Project Manager Steve Wragg

But perhaps the main legacy of the project is that all of these resources are still there online.

“We want people to know that it is possible to protect you, your home and your business from the stress, worry, disruption and costs of flooding,” said Steve Wragg.

So if, like Whiteheads, you want to make your own home more resistant to flooding, why not check it out?


If your home is at risk of flooding, Yorkshire Flood Resilience estimates that every £ 1 spent on flood resilience measures saves around £ 5 in damage to your home.

Their website has information on a plethora of flood protection measures you can put in your home. They understand:

  • movable flood barriers or panels that fit into a frame on the outside of your door to form a watertight seal
  • air brick covers that you can use to seal air bricks (those bricks with holes that increase ventilation in your home) during flooding to keep water out
  • flood resistant wall sealants
  • flood-proof doors, which look like ordinary doors but form a tight seal when locked
  • water resistant floor tiles
  • Flood resistant wallcoverings – paint is stronger than wallpaper
  • sump pumps
  • flood proof kitchens
  • elevated electrical outlets

The website also includes a question-and-answer section, information on how to assess the risk of flooding for your property, and video training on how best to use various flood resistance measures.

To find out more, visit

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