Remembering the record long hot summer of 1976

Published on: 03 Oct 2016

cracked earth

CAN you remember the long hot summer of 1976? Do you look back affectionately or recall the grim realities of months with little rain?

The country was gripped by a heatwave - and an accompanying drought which spelt disaster for people living through it.

A water ban was imposed and people were advised by the National Water Council that if they absolutely had to take a bath, it should be with no more than five inches of water.

People collapsed with heat stroke, gardens suffered, fires raged through forests and it was deemed to hot to play sport.

Now you can share your memories at a special event at Downend Library later this month.

The informal film screening and story sharing session is part of the £3.2m Drought Risk and You (DRY) project being led by UWE which looks at the impact of drought on seven catchments in England, Wales and Scotland, including the River Frome.

Community groups and individuals from around Downend and Frenchay are urged to talk about their experiences and how they coped and to bring along any relevant photographs they might have.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the country's most severe water shortage in living memory and the DRY project is aimed at bringing together information about droughts from a wide variety of sources to help ensure the country is better prepared for another extreme water shortage.

It will explore how water resources can be shared more fairly during droughts and aims to establish a stronger understanding of the needs of a wide range of water-users including water companies, businesses of different sizes, farmers and horticulturalists, river and canal managers, public health organisations and the public in their houses, gardens and allotments.

UWE professor Lindsey McEwen, who is leading the DRY project, said: “We would very much like to hear from people with memories of drought and water scarcity - stories that need to be heard when we prepare for increased future risks of drought.

“It is timely to reflect on what memories and knowledge persist from that period, which spanned over a year, when a dry winter was followed by a dry summer.

“Do memories of the event tell us anything useful about our resilience to future droughts, our perceptions of hot weather and the concerns for water scarcity? The science tells us that the heatwave in June was exceptional by UK standards. The water deficit below the average continued over several months. This drought stands out in terms of its duration and severity in the UK hydrological record of the last 100 years.

“What competing narratives would we find by searching in the archives - stories of parents struggling to run families, stand pipes and water rationing, women carrying water, young people enjoying the sunshine, drinks companies' record sales?

“Memories that were only moderately stressed are frequently those of community cohesion, parched grass, drinking wine with neighbours in public spaces, outdoor living. Rather different memories were archived at the time from those directly affected by extreme stresses in the South East and South West – running families, farms and businesses.”

The event, which includes free refreshments, takes place at Downend Library on Monday October 10 from 3-6pm as part of South Gloucestershire's Discover Festival.

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