Emma Woods-Bolger: Repairing communities after deluge

Over the past four months I have seen the true meaning of community spirit in action across the Calder Valley. When the Boxing Day floods bullied their way through the valley, residents came out of their damaged homes and started to help each other.
People wade through flood waters at Mytholmroyd in Calderdale during the December floods. (PA)People wade through flood waters at Mytholmroyd in Calderdale during the December floods. (PA)
People wade through flood waters at Mytholmroyd in Calderdale during the December floods. (PA)

People who had electricity made cups of tea for those who didn’t; those whose kitchens were usable made food and offered it up to hungry workers. It was as though adrenaline shot through with community togetherness had been administered across the valley – there was a belief that together we would get through the devastation.

As I stood in Mytholmroyd two days on from the floods, my brain could not comprehend what my eyes were seeing. If I didn’t know better, I would have believed a bomb had gone off – shops were collapsing into the river, the streets were awash with household contents and people’s worldly belongings were piled high.

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However, the floods also created bonds. Community hubs have sprung up across the valley offering a point for people to meet and talk about what happened, collect donated furniture and be with people who understand why, when you reach for something as simple as your favourite cup and it’s not there, it causes you to break down.

These hubs show no sign of slowing down or shutting down, they are here to stay. Eventually the losses will be recovered and the hubs will become social centres where friends can convene.

There is still a long road to recovery ahead and with over 300 people not yet back in their homes and many more whose homes are glorified building sites, it would be easy for people to feel forgotten. Yet the thousands of people I have met in the past four months have Yorkshire grit. Even in the face of appalling adversity they stand tall and work hard.

Strong communities can do anything and Calderdale raised £3.1m to aid the recovery of individuals, local organisations and businesses, with over £2.4m already awarded and being put to good use locally by the charity Community Foundation for Calderdale.

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Inspired by the response of locals and their dedication to helping one another, the Community Foundation is getting ready in case this happens again. This evening at Hebden Bridge Town Hall we will launch two community-led initiatives each worth more than £500,000.

One is a Flood Save scheme which is the first of its kind locally and will offer businesses and homes not covered by the Government’s Flood RE scheme the chance to save for a rainy day.

In the event of a flood the foundation will match-fund savings up to £1,000 per member. We are dedicated to raising more money to support Flood Save and these savings and match-funding pots will allow those affected to instantly access a recovery pot of money.

The foundation is also launching Watermark, where shops, crafts people, businesses and growers produce something and badge it up with the Watermark stickers or branding. This could be anything from a beer or a book to a climbing course or a concert. This is then sold with a percentage (or all) of the profits going into a fund. The fund is managed by the foundation, which we will distribute if and when floods hit the region again.

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Watermark is open for anyone to join, whether they were flooded or not. It’s about us all working together as one to build resilience in tour towns.

We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of people’s donations to the flood fund; it has enabled us to award £930,000 to households. In the weeks following the floods we awarded 1,600 emergency grants, supported hundreds of people who have lost income and awarded over 250 grants to people who had to leave their homes.

Across Yorkshire almost £5m has been raised by the foundation which will help communities recover and emerge stronger than ever.

If all the businesses hit by the 2015 floods raised just £10 per week from their sales of Watermark goods the fund would hit over £700,000 in a single year. Multiply that by a few years without floods, and a bit more input from other businesses and the fund could easily hit £2m.

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And that money would be there for our communities to access straight away in case of another flood. It’s all about businesses and communities working together to look after each other.

Emma Woods-Bolger is marketing manager for Community Foundation for Calderdale