Meet Pauline Porter, the driving force behind the flood clean-up in Walcott

Floods. Walcott damage. Pauline Porter.
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY Floods. Walcott damage. Pauline Porter. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Sunday, December 15, 2013
8:09 AM

It’s the village where Christmas is cancelled, where very few homes escaped unscathed from the relentless surge of the tides. STACIA BRIGGS joined the clean-up operation and met the woman who refuses to stop fighting for her village.

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Floods. Walcott damage.
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLYFloods. Walcott damage. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

The spirit in Walcott is battered but not broken, but the same can’t be said for many of its houses which are either uninhabitable or condemned after the devastating tidal surge that struck Norfolk.

At least 10 houses in the village will be demolished, around 50 more are uninhabitable and some residents – who were unable to find insurance for their properties – have been left with nothing whatsoever: in some cases, not even a pair of shoes.

Those whose lives have been devastated are relying on temporary accommodation from North Norfolk District Council, donated clothing and food parcels: the sea has taken everything from them. But the village is fighting back: and what a fight back it is.

Floods. Walcott damage. Pauline Porter.
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLYFloods. Walcott damage. Pauline Porter. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Outside the fish and chip shop – which has been providing free food for workers – is the command centre provided by UK Power Networks.

And there, with her ‘battle bag’ packed with essentials clutched to her side, dressed in many layers, her boots speckled with the sand that turned the village into a temporary beach, is Pauline Porter, Walcott’s Wonderwoman.

“When there are no words, you just give a hug instead,” said Pauline, who is community resilience coordinator, an extraordinarily apt moniker for a powerhouse who simply will not give up fighting for Walcott.

“Some people have lost everything and all we can do is try and make sure that they have somewhere to stay, something to eat and that they know we are here for them. Those who weren’t affected feel guilty and we’re here for them, too. It’s about the whole village supporting each other.”

The command centre arrived on Monday and Pauline’s phone hasn’t stopped ringing for days: people asking for help, people offering support, people unsure where to turn now the worst has happened.

Pauline and husband Keith moved to Walcott from Potter Heigham almost 10 years ago and immersed themselves in village life: both are on the Parish Council (Pauline is chairwoman) and play an active role in the community.

They love the peace and quiet of their home, the fact that it isn’t overlooked and that their nearest neighbour is a field of sugar beet, the friendliness of the community and, of course, the many advantages of living so close to the sea.

“She looks beautiful today – when you live here you get to know the colours and the moods of the sea; she can turn from silver to black when she’s angry and we have a saying: ‘there’s a lot of sea out there today’, which is when we know there might be trouble,” said Pauline, who is currently living with Keith in temporary accommodation in Cromer.

“If you live here, you’re very aware of what the sea can do. It’s part of our life.”

Walcott is used to the kind of evacuations that took place on December 5 and even has its own independent flood wardens – the Walcott Emergency Volunteer Association.

Before the recent flooding, the village prepared for the worst in October, and back in 2007 residents suffered another breach and subsequent damage.

“If you don’t evacuate, when the road closes you get trapped,” said Pauline, who was wheelchair-bound in 2007 and left her home after warnings of a 19ft tidal wave.

“We all go to The Lighthouse pub in the village – Steve the landlord is amazing and we have a bit of a party. You can’t think about what’s happening because there’s nothing you can do. You just have to wait.”

Around 30 villagers spent the night at the Lighthouse this month, others going to the rest centre in nearby Stalham.

“I was in the control room, so I knew exactly how bad it was. You just have to deal with it – there’s no point telling people how bad it is, you just have to try and keep people’s spirits up, keep them safe, fed and watered.”

Keith (or “Mrs Pauline” according to the whiteboard in the command centre) was the first to go back to the couple’s home and see the damage that had been wreaked.

“It was carnage – raw sewage and mud all over the road and up into the house, the floors were soaking, floorboards had lifted, everything was wet. We’d just spent thousands on DIY and it was all ruined in a few hours,” said Keith.

“It’s awful, but there are people far worse off than we are and our main concern is to help the people without homes and without insurance. Once we have them sorted, we can look at what we need to do at home. It’s just stuff. No one died. That’s the main thing to remember.”

Pauline was too busy to return to her home, at least 150 metres from the sea wall, until Saturday.

“I was helping a lady who wasn’t very well when Keith came back from the house. He was in tears. His face said it all. I knew it was bad,” she said.

Inside, the house smells unmistakably of floodwater. It is damp, freezing cold and the couple think it will be many months before they can return.

“Everybody said the water had only ever gone halfway up our road and we thought we’d never get flooded – even this time. We were wrong,” said Pauline.

The couple had moved as many possessions as possible to higher ground but many items have been ruined by water: an heirloom clock lies on a waterlogged sofa in an attempt to save it, some of Pauline’s late mother’s belongings have been damaged but may be salvageable.

“Most things you can just replace, but losing my Mum’s things feels like letting part of her go all over again,” she said.

“It was chaos at home but I don’t let myself think about it. There are things that need to be done. I had to get back to doing what I do best: I know that I’ll crash at some point but I know my friends and family will be there to pick me back up.”

By the sea wall itself, the devastation is horrific. Brick walls have collapsed into bedrooms and garages, outdoor buildings are reduced to matchsticks, possessions lie dripping on driveways, the smell of decay hangs in the air. On one condemned building, a Christmas wreath hangs.

“Christmas is pretty much cancelled in Walcott. So many people have lost their homes, have nowhere to cook their dinner, nothing to celebrate,” said Pauline.

“We can’t think about Christmas when there’s so much to be done but obviously we will try and organise something if we can. It’s hard to get into the festive spirit when you know how people are struggling.

“The support we have had has been incredible – particularly from UK Power Network, North Norfolk District Council, the local pubs, people who live nearby, EDP readers…situations like this make you realise that although as a village we feel forgotten when it comes to flood defences, when it comes to support, we are not alone.”

But just as emergencies bring out the best in people, they also bring out the worst. Villagers have been upset by the number of ‘disaster tourists’ coming to take photographs and gawp and the looters who have stolen the few possessions that weren’t ruined by floodwater.

“I got to the stage where I was asking people if they were from Walcott and if they weren’t what they were doing here. When they said ‘just looking’, I told them to come back with a shovel and ‘just look’ because then they could give us a hand!” laughed Pauline.

Once the emergency situation in Walcott has subsided, the plan is to gather the Parish Council, county councillors and MP Norman Lamb to join forces to petition the government to spend the necessary cash on the flood defences that will save the village.

Without them, one can’t help but be apprehensive about Walcott’s future. The sea – peaceful today but prone to fits of devastating temper – is the village’s best friend and worst enemy; a lure for visitors with pockets full of cash yet a foe that can devastate an entire community in a matter of hours.

“We need proper flood defences. We need help. We are going to shout as loud as we can until something is done because we feel as if we’ve been forgotten in Walcott and Bacton,” said Pauline.

“I will be here for as long as I am needed. They’ve given me this title – community resilience coordinator, but I call it kicking ass. And I will kick ass until Walcott gets what it deserves.”

11 comments

  • we would be more likely to donate if you werent letting MPs use this as a re-election bid

    Report this comment

    Double Bill

    Saturday, December 14, 2013

  • Very sad that the EDP choose to focus on one person and inferring this person is the only driving force behind the Walcott clean-up , when there are others about, who are not making such a public display of their self-less help and actions, they have been doing on a daily basis on their own initiative since the day after the flood, from clearing sites, to organised donations, getting new homes delivered and set up, all without the aid of the community resilience coordinator. Why ask volunteers to litter pick farmers fields when more urgent clean up help in peoples homes is actually required. Maybe a visit to the site to see the real good do'ers 'in action' is called for, you have missed some people who have been a vital life line to many !!!

    Report this comment

    tigtom

    Monday, December 16, 2013

  • Now in all seriousness and having sympathy for their immediate plight, what in heaven's name were they doing living there .Are they all old fishermen's cottages or are most of them mid 20th C holiday homes now enlarged and built around? And are some late 20th C homes which should never have been given planning permission .Are they a sensible distance back from the sea or are they on an estate of unmade roads bang up on the wall because they were originally constructed for seasonal use? The businesses there will of course be taking a calculated risk, same as riverside pubs and fenland land owners. But should we be asked to fill the cap being held out by those who are plainly living where the risk is too high and have chosen to do so. Someone's head at North Norfolk council should be rolling for giving planning permission for many of these properties because surely the sea wall has been in the same place for a good while. And anyone who moved to Walcott 10 years ago must have known the risk.

    Report this comment

    Daisy Roots

    Sunday, December 15, 2013

  • Susie Fowler Watt on Look East.....clearly the flooding in Walcott "was worse than the worst case scenario"......absolute rubbish coming from the BBC.....worse case would have been for the North Sea gales to have continued for another 24 hours, then we would have seen a worse case scenario to remember!

    Report this comment

    Fly Tipper

    Monday, December 16, 2013

  • I visited the site the other day to take some things and saw a small group of people working tirelessly fixing an area where peoples caravans homes had been destroyed... They had been hard at work all week! It's amazing how communities come together to help each other without expecting any praise or acknowledgement. Well done to all the people working so hard in these villages helping others, you all know who you are :-)

    Report this comment

    Love life

    Monday, December 16, 2013

  • well done pauline and all her helpers, the only remedy seems to come from us, the people, not from party politicians.

    Report this comment

    ingo wagenknecht

    Sunday, December 15, 2013

  • Very sad that the EDP choose to focus on one person and inferring this person is the only driving force behind the Walcott clean-up , when there are others about, who are not making such a public display of their self-less help and actions, they have been doing on a daily basis on their own initiative since the day after the flood, from clearing sites, to organised donations, getting new homes delivered and set up, all without the aid of the community resilience coordinator. Why ask volunteers to litter pick farmers fields when more urgent clean up help in peoples homes is actually required. Maybe a visit to the site to see the real good do'ers 'in action' is called for, you have missed some people who have been a vital life line to many !!!

    Report this comment

    tigtom

    Monday, December 16, 2013

  • ....." where very few homes escaped unscathed from the relentless surge of the tides."......untrue.

    Report this comment

    Fly Tipper

    Saturday, December 14, 2013

  • ....."and left her home after warnings of a 19ft tidal wave.".....can't find any reports of a 19ft tidal wave warning in 2007, perhaps she is refering to the predicted 3m flood surge. Even the EDP didn't mention 19ft tidal waves.

    Report this comment

    Fly Tipper

    Sunday, December 15, 2013

  • I went to Walcott last week to help the clear up operation and met Pauline. A remarkable women.

    Report this comment

    Econic

    Sunday, December 15, 2013

  • The two roads affected are St Helens road and Helena road, which run off at right angles to the coast road at a section where it is at its lowest point (under 2m). A 3m surge will push water about 50 metres up these unmade roads. At the top end of these roads (further from the sea) proper brick built dwellings have been built, and a surge of 4m would indeed wet their doormats, but at the same time 1000s of Great Yarmouth residents would be paddling around in Wardrobes in 2m or 3m of sea. It is a tiny bit daft living in a dwelling that relys on a sea defence that is under 2m in height (the coast road), and it would be even dafter to spend £millions of pounds defending a few wooden sheds and a field of caravans.

    Report this comment

    Fly Tipper

    Sunday, December 15, 2013

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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