ThamesAwash Heroes

In this section of the site, we bring your stories. If you've got a local hero that really stepped up during the floods, we want to hear from you. Email their story to ContactUs@thamesawash.com and you could see them featured here.

Flood Hero: Su Burrows

The woman who told the prime minister to get his waders on: a ThamesAwash.com insight into Wraysbury’s unintended media hero, Su Burrows

Su and Phillip HammondUntil February 2014, Wraysbury’s claims to fame was to be the longest village (and host the largest number of clubs and societies) in England.  Oh, and the birthplace in 1215 A.D. of the Magna Carta, the defining document of most of the world’s democracies!

In January 2014, the village experienced its worst flooding since 2003. But, that wasn’t to be the end of the winter’s rain. It just didn’t stop.

The Flood Wardens knew that with already saturated land, all that water would be along in no time. People were called to prepare for the worst and Flood Warden Dave Francis and his group of volunteers could be seen hastily filling and distributing over 30 tons of sandbags on street corners late into the night.

Su Burrows is a Lancashire lass who has lived in the Wraysbury area for about 14 years and a busy, hardworking self-employed IT project manager, juggling about 4 jobs and looking after her family. They say if you want something done, ask someone busy -  so in that spirit, Su had helped support Dave Francis, unloading sandbags, operating road blocks and communicating information to the villagers.

By Sunday 9 February, Wraysbury was on ‘Severe Flood Warning’ and over 200 people in wellies and waders jammed into the village sports hall (the road to the village hall was impassable) to hear the news from the Council and EA that this was going to be ‘catastrophic’, and perhaps even rival the historical high water level of 1947.  

The message from the Council and EA was stark and the mood was grim. Dave and his team had been tending to the elderly, vulnerable and young families helping them prepare for the worst since the Friday. In order to relieve Dave’s phone, Su Burrows yelled her own number for worried residents to call, and then headed straight back out there.

Nobody hereabouts will forget the two defining TV interviews of the crisis - the heartfelt feelings of frightened residents were echoed in Su’s demand for David Cameron to get his waders on and get down here. “We were on a Severe Flood Warning, and with very little, if any, support behind us”.

It was only after another long and sleepless night for the small team that Su’s second media moment arrived. Philip Hammond stood by the Village Green to report on Sky News that the troops were on standby awaiting call in from the civil authorities. His lack of understanding or knowledge about the reality of the situation in Wraysbury caused Su to take her stand again, in a beautifully pitched balance of emotion and logic.

Click here to see Su tell Phillip Hammond a few home truths!

Su recalls “I was tired, emotional and very frustrated by the feeling that there was nothing backing the volunteers except people talking and having meetings. We had been promised help on the Monday, and it still hadn’t arrived.”

Wraysbury now turned into what resembled a war zone. Army troops filed in, and fire appliances and amphibious vehicles were parked on every available verge. Sand trucks were offloading, more TV crews arrived and politicians poured in to set up camp.

Grateful as all the residents were for assistance, most of the damage was already done. Residents who had needed to evacuate had mostly already left, those most at risk had flooded, and there was little more all the rescue services could contribute. One road in the south of the village, resembled a river, with only 19 homes out of 103 still occupied.

As Su herself says “I had no intention to be on TV. The other wardens had been working for days with only a couple of hours sleep and I happened to be at the right place at the right time. I’m an emotional person, but being trained as a project / IT Management professional I look at crisis management in a practical hands-on way.

“The local knowledge of the head warden and the professionalism of the small group of volunteers was the key to keeping the community safe. We allocated a representative for each street, who knew the elderly, the vulnerable, who needed medical supplies and who’d already moved out. 

“People were fantastic. Volunteers took quite direct orders with pleasure and just got stuck in. Whether that was shoveling heavy, wet, freezing cold sand or just boiling up a kettle. Community groups delivered fresh food to the displaced, to the media and to the rescue services. Others were phoning wanting to be given a job. Wraysbury village is a very unique and special place. It’s certainly drawn together the already-close community and hardened our determination to push for a lasting solution.” 

The solution, the River Thames Scheme (RTS), has been sitting on the drawing board since 2003 and has stalled due to lack of justifiable funding for what was thought to be a 1-in-100 year event. 

“We were at the epicentre of the media attention but the impact was way wider than just sleepy Wraysbury. People all along the river are still mopping up, many far from the banks are still using temporary outside toilet facilities, school kids are displaced into makeshift buildings, hundreds suffered power cuts and travel disruption. I myself am self-employed and have a business and career that I urgently need to get back on with”.

On the streets of Wraysbury today, piles of sandbags mingle with nodding daffodils, chainsaws and power washers drone, locals sweep steps. Unlucky homeowners dump sodden carpets and kitchen units into skips, and rescue their treasured items. 

Nobody will easily forget the events of the beginning of 2014, some looking at months to get their houses livable again, but everyone nervously wondering when the next so-called “1-in 100 year” event might strike.

“We do need to learn some local lessons here about the need to prepare, to anticipate, how to structure a response and allocate resources, how to keep everyone informed and when to stop the talking and just mobilise. 

For now, a bit of ditch digging, refining the Jubilee river operations and developing some improved communications channels might just keep us safe until the RTS is properly funded, completed and operational.

“In the 21st Century, on the outskirts of one of the world’s top cities, it surely must be possible to keep citizens safe from the weather. To avoid raw sewerage in their homes, to allow them to insure their possessions, and to quickly put their lives back together, but most importantly, to live without this stress and trauma.

“We already have a big part of the solution in the remaining parts of the RTS; we all need to focus our energies on pushing for it to be funded and making it happen!!”

The birthplace of modern democracy at Magna Carta may still be under water at the time of posting this, but the residents of Wraysbury, Datchet, Old Windsor, Staines, Egham, Chertsey, Shepperton, Teddington and beyond are determined that the people will have their democratic voices heard. 

Add your voice to the call. Register now at ThamesAwash.com 

Your flood hero's

Flood Hero: Su Burrows

The woman who told the prime minister to get his waders on: a ThamesAwash.com insight into Wraysbury’s unintended media hero, Su Burrows

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Following unprecedented media attention now is the time to press for action on funding LTS. The most powerful weapon in our armory is the number of supporters.

If you want to help, the very best thing you can do is enlist as many people as possible.

Why not print out the A4 poster page for your window or car window. Or ask if you can display one of the 4 cards in your newsagent, coffee shop or office noticeboard.