BOXING DAY 2015: We were flooded - but we’ll never be defeated

Volunteers clean up the centre of Hebden Bridge  outside the flooded premises.  Picture Tony Johnson
Volunteers clean up the centre of Hebden Bridge outside the flooded premises. Picture Tony Johnson

As the devastating floods swept through Calderdale, leaving a trail of disaster and destruction, unforgettable and shocking images documenting the day were beamed around the globe.

But as the waters receded, a new story rose from the disaster - a story of hope and community spirit in the face of the floods.

Food and help centre in Mytholmroyd, after the Boxing Day floods, 2015

Food and help centre in Mytholmroyd, after the Boxing Day floods, 2015

Volunteers from within Calderdale and the surrounding area quickly mobilised.

They were backed up by an amazing outpouring of support from people who had travelled from far and wide to offer help in any way they could.

In Sowerby Bridge and Elland, those keen to help flooded the towns to help those in need. The Rotary Club of Sowerby Bridge, among other groups and organisations, quickly waded into assist with the clean-up operation.

Reflecting on the day, Tim Foulds, a resident of Elphaborough Close, Mytholmroyd, said he woke up to an “eerie sound” as flood water rushed into the housing complex.

The big clean-up begins the day after Boxing Day floods, Sowerby Bridge 2015

The big clean-up begins the day after Boxing Day floods, Sowerby Bridge 2015

The close is home to a number of elderly and disabled residents and Mr Foulds knew action needed to be taken. A team was quickly assembled to help.

“The following day when we got up, it was just awash with people. All you could hear were voices and cars pulling up. Someone had travelled all the way up from Slough to help, because they had seen it on the news.

“I thought ‘this is absolutely phenomenal’. I’d never seen anything like the community support.”

A community hub was quickly set up to coordinate efforts and Mr Foulds said within an hour it was “chock-a-block” with supplies.

Since then, Mr Foulds has become a flood warden and is determined to “get things done” to make a difference - whether that’s pushing for more flood containers or raising awareness about blocked drains.

The amazing community effort could also be seen elsewhere in Calderdale. In Hebden Bridge, the community-run town hall quickly became the town’s hub.

At the time, it wasn’t part of the emergency planning system, but since the events of last winter it has been in discussion with Calderdale Council about how it could be used in the event of future flooding, how it would work and what kind of framework is in place.

Graham Mynott, town hall director, said: “I think it’s a really interesting example - we as an organisation talk about the amazing things you can do when a community comes together and just ‘does stuff’ and that’s exactly what happened in the floods.

“Nobody was prepared for it, nobody had a plan - it was just normal people, thinking sensibly about about how to organise things in the most effective way.

“The support was completely incredible, I’ve never seen anything like it. There’s endless stories from people far and wide who came to offer support and offer food.

“I have no idea whether it’s true or not, but someone said to me that we were offered 30,000 crumpets.

“Another story was that someone went into a hire shop in London, hired all the dehumidifiers they could find and said ‘how do I distribute them’.

“Where does that come from? Is it people have an affinity with the town, they have lived here before, they have been through that experience, they know people here, they’ve shopped here before.

“There’s obviously a lot of love out there and fondness for this town - and other towns in the valley.”

Businesses have now reopened in Hebden Bridge and its recovery was epotomised when it was named best Small Market Town at the Great British High Street awards.

Mayor of Todmorden, Tony Greenwood described what he saw in the wake of the floods as the “most life-affirming display of open-hearted, open-handed kindness” he has ever witnessed.

He said: “My overwhelming memory of the experience is of the fantastic generosity of spirit which was at the heart of what happened .We were overwhelmed by offers of help.”