Special Report: Building from the ground up in a Calder community united by crisis

A sign in the window of the Afghan Rug Shop in Hebden Bridge

A sign in the window of the Afghan Rug Shop in Hebden Bridge

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AS Aladdin’s Caves go, the floor of an industrial unit in Hebden Bridge makes for an unlikely location.

Vast quantities of donated toys, box after box of household utensils, countless bags filled with clothes and an eclectic collection of chairs, wardrobes, sofas and bedsteads are all on display, ready and waiting to find new owners in a region devastated by floods.

Flood coordination at Hebden Bridge Town Hall.

Flood coordination at Hebden Bridge Town Hall.

The warehouse normally houses the stock-in-trade of Omega Scaffolding but for now, proprietor Nick Bates is more than happy to focus his energies on helping people rebuild their lives, rather than building houses.

Since the River Calder burst its banks on Boxing Day, the unit on Valley Road has been the focal point from which to distribute tens of thousands of pounds’ worth of household items donated from across the North of England to help a community in crisis.

Special Report: Life goes on as the buzz returns to flood-hit Hebden Bridge

And nearly two weeks after the heavy rain wrought devastation, the need for assistance continues with hundreds of people still looking to replace property destroyed by the filthy water that swamped their homes.

Clearing up at The Albert after floodwaters went over the height of the bar.

Clearing up at The Albert after floodwaters went over the height of the bar.

“There is a big demand for white goods like washing machines, fridges, tumble dryers and microwaves,” said Mr Bates. “I had five people come in today wanting white goods but we don’t have any left - it would be great to get more donations to make people’s lives more bearable.

“Last week an Asian community from Oldham brought through five brand new washers and five brand new fridges. They were snapped up straight away.

“Omega Scaffolding also purchased a new washing machine for one family but we need more.

“One lady came in this morning and she had nothing left - she didn’t have time to move any of her possessions upstairs and they were all ruined.

A sign in a dress shop in Hebden Bridge.'Hebden Bridge on the first day back at work following the Boxing Day floods.

A sign in a dress shop in Hebden Bridge.'Hebden Bridge on the first day back at work following the Boxing Day floods.

“We had a walk around and sorted her out with a few things but it was the white goods she needed and we don’t have any.

“Like a lot of people in the Calder Valley she wasn’t insured because she couldn’t afford the premiums.

“I have had young lads coming to the unit in tears: they’ve got their dog with them but nothing else other than the clothes they’re wearing. It’s really sad.

“The floods in 2012 were a disaster but nothing compared to this. It’s been absolutely horrendous.”

Bob and Maria Cowling of William Holt Greengrocers and Fish Merchants still cleaning up following the floods in Hebden Bridge on Boxing Day.

Bob and Maria Cowling of William Holt Greengrocers and Fish Merchants still cleaning up following the floods in Hebden Bridge on Boxing Day.

The flooding has brought together the Calder Valley community and imbued people with a unity of purpose that was notably absent in 2012, according to landscape gardener Dave Gill, a former chairman of the Hebden Bridge Flood Action Group.

“It’s very different this time, the response in the town has been fantastic. When I was in the flood group there was little community spirit and not a lot of trust,” he said.

“Now there’s a real feeling that we’re all in this together and a genuine hunger for change.

“Back in 2012 nothing really got done. A lot of people talked a lot of rubbish but didn’t get stuck in like they are now.”

Mr Gill has spent much of the last week working with the Hebden Bridge Community Association as a volunteer, delivering donated furniture to homes destroyed by the floods and taking damaged furniture to the tip.

“When this hell happened I just cracked on and helped support people to get them back on track,” said Mr Gill.

“In 1965 my dad worked for the company that rebuilt all the rivers from Mytholmroyd to Hebden Bridge. Before he died he told me that when the rivers got bad I should get involved and that’s what I’ve done.

“It’s my town and I’m proud of it: I’m also proud of some of the people who have responded brilliantly in our hour of need.”

Mr Gill is less positive about the political response to the region’s flooding problems, which he feels has largely been an exercise in public relations, and is concerned by the actions of some of the newer, and more affluent members of the community.

“A lot more could have been done to stop this happening,” he said. “The councils are just not getting on with the job.

“As soon as we flood they come into town and work on all the drains but they need to start at the top because it’s up there that the flooding starts.

“The thing is, nobody sees what they’re doing at the top but when they’re in town they’re very visible and people think it’s all been sorted. Obviously that’s not the case.”

He added: “There’s also an issue with the fancy people who’ve been buying farmhouses up on the tops. I’m not knocking them, they have fantastic jobs but they don’t realise what they’re doing.

“I spoke to a lawyer a few months ago who’d bought a lovely big house on the tops and was looking at changing the water system by blocking up all the drains.

“I told him, ‘You don’t realise what you’re doing. If you go ahead and do this you’ll just wreck the valley.

“The farmers used to manage their land properly but people are now buying up land and doing what they want with it without any consideration for how it’s going to affect everyone else.”

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