I lost my home to crumbling cliffs – my coastal community is the canary in the coal mine

I lost my home to crumbling cliffs – my coastal community is the canary in the coal mine
After Kevin Jordan was made homeless by climate change he began organising to try and make those in power take the thread of the crisis seriously.

Britain has always painted itself as a nation that takes pride in hard work and rewards it fairly. That was always my sense, and what many people of my generation, raised in the swinging sixties, were led to believe. Those who gave a life of service and paid into the national purse through taxes and national insurance could one day expect to enjoy the hard-earned fruits of their labour, in the way of comfort, security and stability. But this now rather quaint notion doesn’t seem to stack up in today’s Britain – one where working poverty is rife, the rights of corporations trump those of hard-working people, and our political representatives and institutions are increasingly difficult to hold accountable.

I should know, as someone who felt that illusion shatter first hand. In December last year, the dream home I’d worked my whole life for was lost to coastal erosion, fuelled by climate change and aided by government inaction.

Having had a long and successful career as a marine engineer which took me first to the Norfolk coast and later all over the world, I expected to ease into a comfortable retirement. I had cut my teeth in the field of submersible technologies and became an expert in remotely-operated underwater vehicles, which certainly made for an exciting career. But it wasn’t without sacrifice – the kind you can justify believing your hard work is securing a better future.

After 25 years in the industry, and a few years beyond that running my own computer repair business, my world shattered when I lost several loved ones in close succession – including my partner of 19 years and my eldest son at just 23. It was then that I decided to return to Norfolk where I would live out my golden years and buy a final, forever home. Nestled atop the Norfolk cliffs in the small, charming village of Hemsby, I found the perfect place which offered the peace, stunning sea views and proximity to nature I sought – the kind of retirement I felt I’d earned. It wasn’t a huge place, but I loved it all the same.

If the thought of a clifftop home sounds alarm bells, don’t think I didn’t do all the relevant background checks before buying. The sea has been the one constant in my life – I’ve been more than up close and personal with it throughout my career – and I understand more than most just how unforgiving it can be.

An evocative portrait of the UK’s deteriorating coastline

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When I bought my home in 2010, I got a full and thorough marine survey, so I could be absolutely sure it would remain standing for the course of my lifetime. Back then I was told the property would be safe for at least 100 more years. Sadly, just 14 years later the opposite was true.

Before Christmas, I was the latest in my community to lose my precious home to coastal erosion. Seventeen other properties were lost before that – some of my neighbours barely managed to save a handful of their most treasured possessions before their homes plunged into the sea. Others, like myself, had slightly more time to get their affairs in order before the council demolished them pre-emptively.

This was the culmination of months, even years, of sleepless nights wondering whether I, and my home, would make it through the night – particularly during the worst storms where the windows rattled and waves lashed up barely five meters away. But it was no freak event – it was a direct product of successive governments failing to roll out the kind of climate action and adaptation measures which could have prevented it completely and saved my close-knit community.

Save Hemsby Coastline is a local campaign set up to draw attention to Hemsby’s plight. With just a handful of homes remaining that inch closer to the edge with each day, we hoped those with the power to do something might offer their support and unlock much-needed funding for sea defences. Sadly, the silence from our national and local politicians has been overwhelming.

That’s why I decided to take matters into my own hands, by taking the government to court, along with my co-claimants – including the environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth. The government’s failure to offer a robust plan that can protect people, homes and infrastructure from the foreseeable impacts of climate change will be the focus of our challenge this month at the High Court. We believe the National Adaptation Programme – essentially the government’s plan to adapt to the effects of climate breakdown that can’t now be prevented – breaches the Climate Change Act, as well as the human rights of people like me, who are bearing the brunt of climate breakdown.

Why we're taking the UK Government to court


Ultimately, it shouldn’t fall to us to force those in power to take the threat of climate change seriously – we deserve to be protected. But I can’t help thinking my community is the canary in the coal mine. A staggering 40% of England’s coastlines are threatened by coastal erosion – that’s 8,900 properties - if coastal defences aren’t considered, not to mention the millions of people threatened by flooding and extreme heat. Whoever is elected later this week, must recognise that what we in Hemsby are facing now is just the beginning.

What I loved most about my home – cooling down on the veranda on a hot summer’s day, witnessing the magic of the area’s rich wildlife including foxes, muntjac deer, natterjack toads and birds of all wingspans – cannot be replaced. I’m thankful that I’ve got a roof over my head, but the housing I’ve been allocated is far from adequate. Last week’s warm weather, which my new property simply couldn’t cope with, showed me just how far we’ve yet to go to prepare our country for our imminent future. There has been much talk of fixing our broken country at this election, but too little of this has focused on climate. If we’re to ensure no one else gets left behind, then it must be a top priority for the next government.

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