‘These things used to be considered 100-year storms – now they are coming increasingly fast’ (Picture: Getty)
The simple but welcoming seaside chalet has been in Camilla Fellas Arnold’s family for generations.
She grew up playing in the dunes inside an enormous crevice believed to have been made by a World War II bomb. Her mother Jeanette splashed in the waves off the Norfolk coastline before her, while her grandfather Eric has vivid memories of the beach being peppered with oranges when a boat sank there when he was a boy, losing its citrus cargo.
Camilla’s great granddad bought the house in 1945, when the sea was further away, but the defences in front of it have been eroded and now the much-loved family home in Hemsby is at risk.
In December a coastal road collapsed without warning, and many were forced from their houses.
Twenty homes have been lost from Hemsby over the past decade, either shattered by storm surges and crumbling cliffs or forcibly demolished by the authorities. And now, Camilla’s mother and elderly grandfather’s future is at stake.
‘You see houses hanging off the cliff edge, people’s lives littered everywhere; all of their stuff, Camilla, 34, tells Metro.co.uk. ‘When you see people’s homes hanging over the beach, you think, is that going to be us at some point? It’s so upsetting, it’s almost indescribable.’
The Fellas’ much-loved family home in Hemsby faces a major risk: the sea (Picture: Camilla Fellas)
It was bought by Camilla’s Great Grandad, pictured above, in the eighties (Picture: Camilla Fellas)
Camilla was moved into the property as a stopgap when she was tiny, but when her parents split up, she and her mum stayed longer than planned. Now her mother lives there with her grandad, who is in his 80s.
As cottages around them are lost, and their own home flooded multiple times, the family feel stuck; they don’t want to move her grandad who now has dementia, but they don’t know who would buy their property.
‘I worry so much for them, sometimes I daren’t even talk to Mum about it because she starts to cry,’ admits the author and executive creativity coach. ‘She doesn’t know what to do or how to get out of this place.’
Storms have damaged cliff-faces across Hemsby and sent homes plummeting towards the waves (Picture: Lee Jones)
Camilla (right) worries about the future of the home for her mother Jeanette and grandfather Eric (Picture: Camilla Fellas)
Her neighbour, 70-year-old Kevin Jordan was told to leave his home in December, given just one week to remove all his possessions and find a new home before it would be demolished.
He tells Metro.co.uk that he’d taken advice before he bought the two-bed chalet in Hemsby 14 years ago and was told that the house would have 100 years before it fell into the sea, but last month, he received a knock on the door during a storm and was told he would have to get out.
‘It was heartbreaking,’ says Kevin. ‘I put everything into it; spent a lot of money doing it up. I got nothing back at all. No compensation when the local authority deems it necessary to demolish your place.
‘This is climate change. How else would you explain it? These things used to be considered 100-year storms. Now they are coming increasingly fast. From the Beast from the East in 2018 up until this year when we’ve had four.’
Kevin moved to the chalet to retire and when he first arrived, he enjoyed his 180 degree view of the coastline, and liked to watch the ships bobbing along the horizon at night before falling asleep to the sound of waves lapping at the shore. But in recent years, his sleep was interrupted; he would wake up stressed about how close the sea was getting, and worry about going out and inspect the damage during storms.
Coastal erosion has caused entire walkways to become destroyed (Picture: Lee Jones)
Flood protection measures have been enacted by several councils (Picture: Lee Jones)
Kevin and his neighbours appealed to the Government to fund sea defences that would have cost around £15 million. The planning application was approved after years of work, meaning they could get the funding from the Environment Agency, but last month, they learned they were not eligible for the funding.
‘We were told we do not qualify for funding and therefore there will be no defences. That means I lose my house,’ says Kevin. ‘It was only £15 million. Every year, Hemsby supplies national Government with £88 to £100 million in tourist revenue. I’m absolutely livid.’
Then, as Storm Ciaran hammered at his door in December, Kevin heard another unwelcome thud. ‘The storm came out of nowhere. There was no warning. It took great swathes of the dune down and part of the road outside my house. We were cut off. At 8pm that night as the storm was raging I had a guy from building control hand me a letter saying we feel you should get out right now. If you don’t we will evict you and demolish your property.’
Kevin had seven days to move. He is now temporarily housed in a one-bed flat in nearby Martham, which looks out onto streets and pedestrians. But at least he doesn’t have to worry about the sound of the sea. He is grateful for the many residents who turned up when he had to leave his seafront home, forming a human chain to help him move all his belongings into a flatbed truck.
‘I’ve got mobility issues, so it was wonderful to have all these people here. They’ve done it for so many others who have lost their homes.’
Villages and hamlets around England – including Hemsby – have been identified as being at risk of coastal erosion – click to enlarge (Picture: Metro.co.uk)
Kevin says he now mainly feels numb, although visiting the pile of rubble where his home once stood was hard. ‘I’m not an emotional person, but that caught me in the throat. What’s happened to me will happen to others. It’s not just us coastal regions; it’s the flood plains. People need to wake up.’
Around the country, Brits are facing challenges never seen before. In 2022, more than 130 people were evacuated from their homes in Dagenham when wildfires on the hottest day of the year tore through a residential area. Borth and Fairbourne villages in Wales could be lost due to climate change while residents of a northern Cornish town have taken it upon themselves to tackle sea level rise by forming the Bude Climate Partnership.
This year, the warmest year on record, was marked by heatwaves, flooding and wildfires across the globe. In the UK, July exceeded 40c for the first time ever, and increasingly severe and frequent storms and coastal erosion are devastating communities and destroying people’s homes.
Mike Childs, head of science, policy and research at Friends of the Earth, says: ‘This is the reality of the climate crisis in the UK and around the world. Everyone will be affected but the most marginalised communities here and overseas will be hardest hit.
‘We need urgent action from the government to cut emissions so we can avert the worst of climate breakdown and put in place credible adaptation plans to keep us safe from the extreme weather and harmful impacts of global heating that we’re already seeing.
The scene in Happisburgh, Norfolk in February 2023 where the cliff edge has gradually receded (Picture: SWNS/James Linsell-Clark)
People have been urged to leave their unsafe homes which are at risk of collapse (Picture: PA)
‘That’s why, alongside our co-claimants who are among those on the frontlines of the climate crisis in the UK, Friends of the Earth is taking legal action over the government’s failure to safeguard communities from climate change. We hope this will lead to more ambitious and effective adaptation plans that better protect us all.’
Extreme weather events are disproportionately likely to affect socially vulnerable communities due to their location and lack of flood defences. Typically, these areas are home to higher numbers of older and disabled people, like Jeanette Stevens, who is blind and who this October lost her home to flooding.
She lives with her husband Fred and her guide dog Koko in a specially adapted council bungalow in Carlton on Trent, Nottinghamshire.
One night in October, when it had been raining all day and Storm Babette had been raging, Fred told her he’d need to move the car because the drive had become submerged. He drove to the village hall, 400m up the road, and on his return found the property surrounded by water.
Jeanette, 57, explains: ‘By the time he got back, he could see sewage coming up through the manholes and the drains, mixing with the flood water. It settled though, so we didn’t worry, and at about 9.30pm I started to get ready to go to bed.’
Storm Babette brought chaos to Nottinghamshire in October (Picture: Jeanette Stevens)
Jeanette, who lives with husband Fred and dog Koko, was left touched by support from the community (Picture: Jeanette Stevens)
It was at this point that brown, putrid water started seeping up through the carpets in every room of their home. She says: ‘The smell hit you straight away. It stank. Imagine the worst smell you can. We knew it was sewerage straight away. It made me feel ill and like I needed to get out. So we had to pack a bag and some dog food pretty quickly.
‘I had my slippers on and my feet were getting wet. Fred got me my wellies but as I stood over the doorstep and the water went straight over them past my knees. The dog refused to come – she doesn’t like puddles, so we had to force her. It was frightening because I can’t see and I didn’t know what was going on.’
They headed to a friend’s house, and the couple have since been temporarily housed. But they lost half of their possessions and their home has been ruined; requiring new flooring, bathroom, kitchen and other work. They will have to wait months before they can go back home.
Jeanette adds: ‘We’ve been back since, but you walk in the door and it just stinks and takes you back to that night. The house is so empty and a lifetime of stuff is just gone. It’s only material things, but some of it had sentimental value. My dad’s stuff; pictures and papers gone. Fred’s parents and grandparents’ things, lost. You can’t just replace that.’
Bags of rubbish had to be collected from items that were simply too waterlogged to be saved (Picture: Jeanette Stevens)
Furniture belonging to Jeanette and Fred was badly damaged as a result (Picture: Jeanette Stevens)
And Jeanette feels uprooted. Before, she could get around independently or ask her neighbours for help. ‘We were comfortable and secure before. Koko and I would go for walks, wherever we wanted. This isn’t my home. I want to go home where I feel safe and settled. I can just about walk to the shops now, but I won’t know where anything is when I get there,’ she says.
Like Kevin, Jeanette received some much welcome help from her community. After posting in a closed facebook group, run by volunteers who support sight loss charity Guide Dogs, Jeanette received over £400 of gifts and donations, for Koko and for her family.
She adds: ‘Fred told me Koko looked heartbroken as she watched her things being thrown away. But she was back to herself when the gifts started to come through. I was in happy tears myself.’
But the flooding has changed Jeanette, and that she will always worry when she hears heavy rain drumming on the rooftop.
‘I worry every time it rains, she adds. Climate change has a lot to answer for.’
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