South Tyneside mum reaches finals of competition with flood invention

Sunderland mum Deborah Whittle has made the finals of the Environment Agency’s Flash Flooding Challenge with a flood invention

Sunderland University student Debbie Whittle who is a finalist in the Environment Agency's Flash Flooding Challenge
Sunderland University student Debbie Whittle who is a finalist in the Environment Agency's Flash Flooding Challenge

A flash of inspiration put a North East mother-of-two into the finals of a competition designed to find solutions to the problems of flooding.

Sunderland University student Deborah Whittle was among 18 finalists from the North of England who presented their ideas to judges in the Environment Agency’s Flash Flooding Challenge.

The event at Leeds University involved a panel made up of representatives from the agency, the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management and the water industry.

It encourages students to come up with schemes to tackle flash flooding and the impact it can have on homes and businesses.

Deborah designed a pop-up bridge, called the Modular Raised Road, created from plastic crates to form a temporary span linked over any distance, which could be used to save lives and aid rescues.

Across the country 215 communities have been identified by the agency as being at risk of flash flooding, with 125 in the North of England.

Deborah, who lives in Cleadon in South Tyneside, said: “With predictions that flash flooding could become more common, I think there could be a real need for the Modular Raised Road.”

After working in database management, Deborah decided to update her computing skills, and after completing foundation studies at South Tyneside College, joined Sunderland University for her final year as a top-up student on the BSc applied business eomputing programme. Her idea involves plastic extrusions joined together to form a cube and held together with tube hinge pins.

A platform or walkway can be clipped on to the top of the cubes, allowing most civilian vehicles, people of any size, wheelchair users, as well as livestock, to be moved to safely.

The honeycomb mesh design allows water to flow through and is slip resistant, lightweight and can be easily assembled and dismantled.

Deborah’s inspiration came from her memories of playing as a child with toughened plastic crates, and using them to build bridges in the yard of her parents’ builders’ merchant business.

The mother of sons aged 14 and 16 said: “I remembered the plastic crates we used to build bridges out of and knew how strong they were.

“I began putting together calculations around weight distribution and found a strong enough plastic used to manufacture manhole covers to do the job.”

Deborah’s university programme leader, Dr Susan Jones, a senior lecturer in digital media in the Department of Computing, Engineering and Technology, said: “Getting to the final of these awards is fantastic news. Deborah has done this through her own efforts. She is incredibly entrepreneurial, she has the skills, and the vision to see an idea and knows how to make it happen.”

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