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Lessons learnt from Somerset floods

22 August 2014

by a staff reporter


Digging in: Peter Maurice, Bishop of Taunton and Rob Walrond, report co-author and diocesan rural life adviser visit the dredging project on the River Parrett, Somerset

Digging in: Peter Maurice, Bishop of Taunton and Rob Walrond, report co-author and diocesan rural life adviser visit the dredging project on the Riv...

CHURCHES need to be turned into community hubs, equipped with broadband and food services, so as to help communities through local emergencies, a report on the Church's response on the devastating flooding to the Somerset Levels has recommended.

The report, Fact, Feeling and Future, was commissioned by the Bishop of Taunton, the Rt Revd Peter Maurice. He said: "We are trying to keep this agenda alive: people here fear it will be forgotten, otherwise."

The report also backs residents' demands for renewed dredging of the local rivers, especially the rivers Parrett and Tone. The Environment Agency began dredging again this spring, and has so far dredged half of the eight kilometres of river. It expects to finish by October.

The floods in December 2013 and February this year devastated homes and communities on the Levels. Churches played an active part in the relief effort to support communities cut off by rising water, in some cases for weeks.

Bishop Maurice hopes that, by implementing the report's recommendations, the diocese and churches can respond even more quickly and effectively to floods and their devastating impact. He has vowed to keep lobbying the Government on the needs of communities in the Levels, and to strengthen the links between the bishops in the House of Lords and government ministers.

Among the recommendations is the creation of a major-emergency fund from which the diocese can make immediate payments to those in need; better use of social media so as to communicate during local and national crises; and turning churches into community hubs, complete with broadband.

The Bishop said: "We know with some there will be practical difficulties. This is what happened in Muchelney. It had a wonderful prayer board that was visible to everyone who came into the church, so that everyone knew that what people in the church were doing was being done by them out of their deep faith."

Two tablet computers were put inside the church, and a member of the congregation donated broadband to help people stranded in Muchelney to keep in touch. Food deliveries were piled up in the church, and hot drinks were provided for the emergency services that ferried people into the village by boat.

In the community of Moorland, which was cut off for weeks, no clergy live in the village; so church people organised prayer groups themselves.

Bishop Maurice said: "Everyone was very grateful for the church - they might not come there to worship, but they are grateful to know it is there. We don't have clergy in every community, and they can't be everywhere. We need to look at having people in every community who can act as a spiritual presence."

A theological reflection day for clergy has been planned for this autumn, specifically on the flooding.

The Bishop said that there had been wonderful support from other faith communities: £16,000 had been raised by Muslim communities in West Yorkshire; and practical help had come from members of the Hindu community, who drove in to do what they could.

Retired clergy should be deployed to help relieve pressure on resident clergy, the report recommends.

Bishop Maurice said: "We are asking ourselves, are we supportive enough of our clergy, and how can we make better use of the retired clergy around?"

The report was based on first-hand accounts given by clergy who were working and living in the Somerset Levels, and by parishioners, about their experiences of the winter of flooding.

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