I’m reposting a piece from 2012, an account of the floods in Hebden Bridge and the surrounding villages, written by local long-term resident and creator of many community events, Tessa Gordziejko.

The Trades, Hebden Bridge’s venue for so many great music nights, was given a boost by Patti Smith who did a gig there and donated the proceeds.

Here is the story of those crippling floods of 2012 and the town’s subsequent reinvention.

And if you’d like to donate to help the floods now, please give to the appeal here. Also, The Trades has organised a Flood Fundraiser to take place on January 8th with Sly Antics and guests, plus another fundraiser on the 20th featuring John Bramwell (I am Kloot). There will be more fundraiser evenings, so keep an eye on their website.

The Social, 5 Little Portland St, London, has a Calderdale Flood Relief fundraiser on 13th Jan. Tickets £5.


After The Deluge

Whilst most of the country was gearing up to celebrate the Olympics in the summer of 2012, Hebden Bridge was having a hard time. In June, and a month later in July, the valley suffered devastating floods which ruined businesses, homes and community facilities. Shopkeepers found themselves cleaning out sludge from their shops for a week afterwards. Bars and cafes had to close.

A month later, just as people were starting to get back to something like normal, it happened again. Nearly a month’s rain fell on the valley in three hours in an intense and localised monsoon-like precipitation. About 500 tons of rubble and debris were washed down into the valley and homes and businesses were again devastated.

New town hall Hebden Bridge
Etched glass at the new Town Hall development

As always, Hebden Bridge responded to this double catastrophe with its characteristic creativity and community spirit. A week after the first flood, the Hebden Bridge Festival opened its vibrant, week-long arts programme with a day of street theatre. The washed-off Hand Made parade was rescheduled, with spectacular floats and costumes, and as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, a day of dance in the square was produced by Imove, including the hilarious and inimicable Ponydance.

The community rallied round, organising fundraisers by local bands, creating a fund to help people and businesses. Teams of volunteers called round to affected households to see whether they needed help cleaning up. Even the insurance industry for the most part responded helpfully and honoured policies quickly (with a few notable exceptions where businesses have still not opened due to disputes with insurers).

In  June 2013, Calderdale Young Writers unveiled the first of their Wordstones in Hebden Bridge, inspired by experiences they had as part of the Cultural Olympiad working with Simon Armitage as he created his Stanza Stone poetry series In Memory of Water across the Pennines. The Hebden Bridge stone replaced a coping stone which had been washed away in the floods.

In December 2012, the organisers of The Handmade Parade produced a series of events in Todmorden, Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd  called ‘Valley of Lights’ a magical winter celebration whose centrepiece was the story, told with giant puppets, lanterns, fire sculptures and artists, of the floods and how the valley communities rose again.

And indeed they have. Fifteen months on, most businesses have re-opened, with a facelift and renewed vigour. On the worst-hit street, busy Market Street, The Bookcase (bookshop), Muse Music (independent CD’s and vinyl retailer), The Yorkshire Soap Company (wonderfully camp, colourful soap creations), Ruby Shoesday (shoes to die for) and the many coffee shops have all been refurbished to create an even more welcoming and lively environment. Once again, it’s a place where all your Christmas shopping needs can be met within one town and there’s music on every street corner.

Now let the music keep our spirits high
And let the buildings keep our children dry
Let creation reveal its secrets by and by, by and by
Jackson Browne – Before The Deluge 

Photo credit: T Gordziejko. Tessa has also written about Towersey Folk Festival

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