Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

How To.Survive a Flood

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

How To.Survive a Flood

Article excerpt

When disaster struck at a West Yorkshire academy, the headteacher and the local community gritted their teeth and pulled together to get the school back on its feet

Clare Cope had expected to spend Christmas enjoying a well-earned breather. But on Boxing Day 2015, several feet of filthy water swept through the school where she is headteacher, Burnley Road Academy in Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire - one of several devastated by the area's worst floods in living memory.

"Nothing could have prepared me for the sheer scale of the damage," says Cope. "Everything was completely ruined, covered in inches of foul-smelling black sludge. Years of work, gone, just like that."

There was a moment, she says, standing in the sewage-ridden sludge, with children's wrecked exercise books lying around her, when she wondered where on earth to begin.

"But, faced with something like this, you really have no choice but to roll up your sleeves and get on with it - act on instinct almost. So that's what I did," she says.

Two months later, with reconstruction work well under way and her pupils now settled in temporary accommodation, Cope has had the time to consider her response to what happened. Here, in her own words, she shares what she has learned and offers advice to those who might one day find themselves facing a similar incident.

Acting on instinct

The first few days are about reacting to the immediate crisis. Try not to panic. At this stage, you haven't got time to mull over every decision. To a certain extent, you have to rely on instinct, and that is OK.

Keep your list of emergency contacts and a dedicated mobile phone at home so they won't be lost if your school floods. You'll have lots of calls to make and chances are the school landline will be down. Make calls straightaway - to your insurer, the local authority, and so on - and, even though you'll feel desperate to start cleaning up, don't. Any insurance claim could be affected if you act before your loss adjustor has given you the official go-ahead.

Accepting help

We were inundated with offers of help. On the first day, about 150 people turned up with mops and buckets asking what they could do.

Initially, the enormity of the situation was difficult to deal with because I'm used to feeling in control.

I realised very quickly, however, that I could not manage something like this alone - and that delegating and making use of the considerable skills and expertise of volunteers was the wisest course of action.

For example, the father of one of our pupil's took charge outside and did a brilliant job. One of the things he did was to organise a pump, which took 72,000 litres of water off of our playing field in one day.

I wanted to lead and manage, but I also learned that I had to let go a little bit and trust in others' capabilities.

Once the dust has settled

The challenges don't stop once the initial emergency has been dealt with. At the moment, our older children are being taught in the local high school's sixth-form block and our younger pupils are travelling six miles to a primary school with spare classrooms.

This has entailed all sorts of organisational challenges, such as finding transport for the key stage 1 pupils and employing extra staff to supervise bus journeys and lunchtimes on two sites. Again, it's important to accept help and advice. …

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