Have you heard about the Brockham Emergency Response Team?
PUBLISHED: 13:59 09 May 2016 | UPDATED: 14:22 09 May 2016
In a brand-new series, best-selling Surrey author Miriam Wakerly will be discovering some of the unsung heroes who really do inject life into 'village life'. For the first instalment, she brings us the amazing story of Brockham's Emergency Response Team
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine April 2016
I have long been writing elsewhere about the colourful characters of Surrey’s villages, as well as imaginary ones in my novels, and for my first instalment for Surrey Life, I wanted to bring you something a little bit special.
In the beautiful village of Brockham, tucked away to the east of Dorking, there resides an extraordinary organisation called the Brockham Emergency Response Team (BERT) – though the name somewhat belies its purpose, since activity is focused on preventive measures rather than a knee-jerk reaction. In any event, its members truly keep calm and carry on with the good work.
Originally set up by Simon Budd, Bob Bartlett and Bob Thomas, the organisation was created following the floods of 2013 when, on Christmas Eve of all times, 90 houses were seriously flooded, 20 cars written off and people in their vehicles washed away and left stranded on the roofs.
At the other end of the scale, Brockham is best-known for one of the biggest bonfire nights in the south of England and BERT also works closely with the bonfire committee – and that’s not all either.
As Parish News editor, Jane Gardner, goes on to explain, “Its members also monitor and clear ditches and drains… Simon Budd is involved with this and you will see him out with a team of young lads (young BERT!) in all weathers!”
A village lifeline
According to Bob Bartlett, BERT works because Brockham is an active, neighbourly village, with a population of all ages. If something needs doing, there is a willingness to see it done for the good of all, he adds.
Perhaps Bob, an ‘ex-policeman’ – in fact, former head of operations for Surrey – was the right person at the right time to help steer the volunteers. Twelve years ago, he set up an e-mail system enabling villagers to sell items, raise funds, share information and problems; so this was a ready-made communications tool for BERT.
Back on the subject of the floods, Brockham has often flooded over the years, so it’s clear that BERT is very much needed. In 1968, Poland Bridge was washed away – and, actually, its ‘temporary’ replacement is still there today! The River Bridge, closer to Dorking, was rebuilt in 1991.
However, contrary to appearances, the flooding is not necessarily due to the River Mole but sometimes as a result of drains and ditches becoming blocked by debris, combined with the heavy rain that comes with climate change. Tanner’s Brook, normally a benign stream, brings water from the hills and once this volume gets into the main drainage ditches, it turns into a raging torrent.
Thanks to BERT, though, the avoidable problems can be nipped in the bud – and the way that they and the local council work together sets a fine example for other such communities. For example, the group meets in a Flood Forum with councils and agencies, and they also raised £7K for a camera that records what is going on. The footage is then put on YouTube and the link is sent to the council so they can take action. BERT also lays down sandbags and continues to raise funds with the help of locals, including through a pub quiz evening and from generous donations.
Bob adds: ‘‘As well as the flood monitors, we now have crime prevention cameras too. Both work. The flood-warning devices have already been activated this year.”
Many years ago, two men were employed to clear the ditches. How things have changed!
• Miriam Wakerly is a Surrey author, her novels all based in the typical, but fictitious, village of Appley Green. For more details, see miriamwakerly.blogspot.com. Follow her on Twitter: @MiriamWakerly