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Public facing? Be a flood defence expert

Nottingham City Council’s flood mitigation manager Fay Bull talks about adrenaline, helping the public and discussing dredging over cocktails.

What do you most look forward to on a Monday morning?

The uncertainty. This morning it was pouring with rain and I didn’t know what I would be coming into. Sometimes everything you’ve planned is thrown out of the window and you are heading out the door with a hi-vis and an iPad. The uncertainty gets your adrenaline pumping a bit.

What’s the most exciting part of your day/week?

There is a huge variety in my job but the most rewarding thing is when I help a member of the public or a community group. Sometimes someone has suffered flooding at the same time every year, they’ve finally called the council, and we’ve gone out and found something fairly straightforward we can do. It might be a simple structural problem but if we can reduce their anxiety every time it rains, that’s very rewarding.

When we go into incident mode, that’s exciting, purely because we spend hours in meetings planning for floods, and it’s good to see all that work being acted on.

Why does your job matter so much?

Because flooding is devastating. I’ve seen people’s houses when they’ve been flooded and they will never forget that experience. If we can help reduce the risk of flooding, that has an impact on their lives. It’s great to have the power to do that.

What specific skills do you offer?

I’m not a trained engineer but I bring environmental management and softer skills such as partnership working and understanding the planning process.

What stands out as the most valuable thing you’ve done?

At the moment we are sourcing funding and just starting to make a difference but when the projects start happening and flooding of properties reduces, that will be very valuable.

How does your role impact on the built environment?

I am passionate about not building everything grey. We want blue green infrastructure, so rather than concreting everything, putting in trees and wetlands.

We have brought green infrastructure into dense sites. We are changing which areas flood and where the water will be stored. It’s changing the landscape but less about building big walls and more about the big picture, using swathes of the city to manage flood risk.

How do you explain what you do to your friends and family?

I have to think quite hard to make sure it’s not a conversation stopper. I just say I help prevent flooding, then expand. I’ve got friends who work in marketing and fashion and they call me Fay Flood, which has become my Twitter name (@fayflood). It’s quite endearing really. I end up explaining dredging to them over a cocktail.

How did you get into the job?

I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up – and sometimes I still wonder! I did a geography degree then did a six-month placement at Balfour Beatty in waste management but found the subject matter quite dull. I applied for lots of jobs and, because it was during the boom times, got offered a fair few. By chance I ended up working for Scott Wilson as a flood risk consultant for five years and got really into it. From there, I took this job at Nottingham City Council when it came up.

Did your role exist five years ago?

My role is to ensure the council meets the statutory requirements of the Flood and Water Management Act and the Water Framework Directive. It has existed since 2010 when legislation came in.

Primarily I’m involved in seeking funding and coming up with engineering solutions. We then work with our own labour force and external consultants and contractors to put them into action.

You need to know which agencies to work with and which buttons to press. You can have people passing the buck or situations where it’s not clear cut and you have to negotiate. Softer skills come in.

How do you see it changing in the next five years?

More projects will take shape, more spades in the ground. That will be satisfying.

What’s going to be the most exciting thing about it then?

There are schemes that have been knocking about for years and if we can get them started, in partnership with the Environment Agency, I will be jumping for joy.

What’s your advice to someone like you?

Never take no for an answer. If you’re trying to do something differently, and someone says it won’t work, keep trying. Keep plugging away.

What would you be if you weren’t in this role?

I always wanted to be a physiotherapist then for some reason on my university application form I wrote down geography. I can’t imagine dealing with the limbs of the general public now so I made the right choice.

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