January has seen a surge of community spirit following the devastating impacts of floods across the country.
In true co-operative spirit, communities have rallied together in response to rising rivers and burst banks. There are many undocumented examples, but recently we heard how Hebden Bridge pulled together with co-operatives hosting pop-up shops to make goods more accessible.
And the Co-operative Group reacted quickly by setting up temporary stores in Cumbria and Yorkshire, which stocked 150 lines of essential products. In Appleby, residents even paid back the Group’s quick-thinking by helping to move its temporary store from further flooding threats.
Over Christmas, the Group’s national television advert of giving back to the community became reality, with hundreds of lines of goods being donated to affected families. And parcels containing essentials were given to local residents and nursing homes in Cumbria and Yorkshire.
The Group’s insurance arm also helped customers by prioritising flood claims, with those affected receiving £50 in Co-operative Food vouchers. Staff also pro-actively contacted all customers within 250 metres of flood-risk areas to see if they needed help.
Some of those hit by rising river levels were community hydro schemes in Lancashire. We spoke to Halton Lune, which reported a water level rise of 1.5m, and Whalley Community Hydro that was hit by the River Calder. Both schemes have powered down, but with volunteers helping with the clean up, are expected to be online soon.
It’s not just in the UK where co-operatives are responding to disasters. In India, where flooding has displaced over two million people, the agricultural co-op IFFCO is sending aid. The country has been affected by heavy rainfall in the south of the country, and the co-op is providing relief material.
Flooding across the United States is seeing a response from utility co-operatives where severe storms are having an impact. Electricity co-ops are helping to reconnect customers and pro-actively disconnect meters in low-lying areas.
There isn’t quite a consensus on whether these increases in floods is linked to climate change. But authorities across the UK have accepted that flood defences are inadequate and this is the new norm.
A place exists for all co-ops to help with the immediate problems of protecting communities. Co-ops exist in all villages, towns and cities in areas prone to flooding – so whether it’s a farmer-owned co-op or a store, there will be a way to help.
In the long-term, co-operatives already pledge to protect and serve the environment. In other pieces for the News, Ramsay Dunning and Paul Monaghan write about their experiences at the Paris COP21 talks towards the end of last year.
It’s encouraging that the co-operative voice is being heard across Europe in terms of setting up renewable energy projects. But the sector is still small, with only 2,800 across the continent, and it desperately needs growth.
So when governments around the world are looking at short-term fixes to natural disasters, they need to be looking at long-term solutions to ensure future generations are protected.