WHEN the Calder Valley was hit by devastating floods in December last year, many local business owners believed they would be forced to close forever.
But their plight touched the hearts of investors as far afield as the Orkneys and Australia, who have splashed out on VIP passes to shop in places like Hebden Bridge, even though most will never set foot in the West Yorkshire town.
The windfall came about because of a crowdfunding campaign which raised more than £200,000, and has provided a boost for more than 100 flooded businesses around Calderdale.
Crowdfunding is a way of raising finance by asking a large number of people for a small amount of money. It uses the internet to talk to potentially millions of investors.
To businesswoman Kirsty McGregor, who organised the campaign on behalf of Business for Calderdale, it shows what can be achieved when a community pulls together and uses the power of social media.
Ms McGregor, who is regional manager in the North for the equity platform, Angels Den, said: “We brought together a number of independent small businesses that had been badly affected by the Calder Valley floods, most of them were still shut down two weeks after the floods. We wanted to give them something to build for the future.
“They were from all walks of the business world, including manufacturers, engineers, transport companies, service providers, retailers and tourist businesses.
“We engaged with them, to show them how to use crowdfunding, and build their presence online as well. They were absolutely in despair. A lot of them were not thinking of opening again and that would have been catastrophic for the Calder Valley. The wider community would have been absolutely devastated.”
Altogether, the crowdfunding campaign raised more than £213,000. After stripping out costs, it left a net total of £206,000, which was shared between 103 businesses.
Ms McGregor said: “It was astounding to see where the support was coming from. There have been so many businesses that have re-opened recently. We’ve had an awful lot of launch events and re-openings over the last month.
“What they have done is use that time to really re-think their business strategy. Obviously, they want the flood resilience to be there as well.”
She added: “There’s still a little bit of concern in the background that we’re still not getting the footfall through, certainly for the retailers. We need to encourage people to visit and spend money with local businesses. People still think we’re under water or businesses are closed, and I would say probably more than 90 per cent of them are open again.”
She said the crowdfunding campaign had attracted around 2,000 investors, and many of them were based a long way from the Calder Valley.
“We created something called the Hebden VIP card to encourage people to come into the town and get some discounts. We sent them around the world. There were people who bought Hebden VIP cards who lived in Australia or lived in the South of France or up in the Orkneys.
“They liked the idea that, rather than just giving a donation, they actually got this card that said ‘Hebden VIP’ and ‘Love Hebden’.”
CroWDFUNDING can play a major role in supporting community initiatives, according to Kirsty McGregor of Angels Den.
Ms McGregor passed on advice about how to set up successful crowdfunding campaigns at a Leeds Enterprise Network event which was held at The Yorkshire Post’s head office in Leeds.
The event, which was organised by The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Beckett University, attracted about 100 entrepreneurs and students looking to set up businesses.
Crowdfunding has a long history. Books have been crowdfunded for centuries with authors advertising projects in subscription schemes .