In praise of the resilience of the Yorkshire Dales after flash floods – The Bishop of Ripon

Farmers in Reeth and the Yorkshire Dales are still counting the cost of last month's flash floods and must not be forgotten, says the Bishop of Ripon.
Farmers in Reeth and the Yorkshire Dales are still counting the cost of last month's flash floods and must not be forgotten, says the Bishop of Ripon.
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ONE of the lasting impressions that six years living in New Zealand left on me is a certain fussiness about what makes for good coffee, or a good ‘‘flat white’’ coffee to be precise.

New Zealanders and Australians argue endlessly about who actually invented the flat white (described in its Wikipedia entry as an ‘‘espresso with microfoam’’), but whatever the outcome of that debate it remains my favourite caffeine tipple.

Dr Helen-Ann Hartley is the Bishop of Ripon.

Dr Helen-Ann Hartley is the Bishop of Ripon.

My husband and I once had a disastrous experience in a café somewhere in Yorkshire where I
was served something that when I gently questioned the result was described to me as ‘‘well it is flat, and it is white’’.

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It says something then that I had the best flat white I’ve had in a very long time at the Two Dales Bakery in Reeth, just a couple of days after the devastating floods that hit the area at the end of July.

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Work takes place to put in a temporary bridge on the Reeth to Richmond road.

Work takes place to put in a temporary bridge on the Reeth to Richmond road.

The café incurred some water ingress, but it was soon sorted, and in the midst of the sterling wider community effort in the immediate aftermath the bakery owners got to work busily baking bread and cakes, and serving delicious food (and coffee).

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‘‘Open for business’’ was the message that needed to get out: tourism is a vital part of the local economy. It was displayed on a large yellow sign in the centre of Reeth for all to see, and social media helped spread the word.

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The aftermath of last month's floods in Reeth.

The aftermath of last month's floods in Reeth.

I’ve returned to the bakery on three occasions in recent weeks, and was there again on Bank Holiday Monday during the Reeth Show. This time, the bakery van was making its way between its base higher up in Reeth, and the showground lower down in the village topping up the bread and cakes for purchase by the hundreds who turned out from near and far to show solidarity and support to the local community, and enjoy a high quality Show.

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It was (please excuse the pun) a baking hot day, and I marvelled at the brave souls setting off on the fell-race as I stood in the queue waiting for the park and ride shuttle bus to return me to my car.

When I arrived a few hours previously, the showground was alive with activity: all creatures great and small on display. You’d struggle to believe that just four weeks prior it had been a very different scene.

Roads were washed away on Grinton Moor during last month's floods.

Roads were washed away on Grinton Moor during last month's floods.

Practically the day after the flood waters had receded, more than 100 young farmers descended on the showground and painstakingly made their way through the fields inch by inch removing the debris and rebuilding the drystone walls.

The level of gratitude to that group, and to the many others who not just shared messages of concern but made an active response to the plight of those directly affected by the floods, is an inspiring gloss on the current state of our national political life.

Reeth was one of a number of villages and more isolated farms affected by the floods; each community tells its own story of loss, recovery and bravery shown by many.

What struck me on Monday in the midst of the Show, and in the many conversations that I had with folk, some of whom had lost property and winter fodder, livestock and working dogs, and in at least one case, a very close personal escape were two things: resilience and vulnerability.

There was (and is) a strong sense of ‘‘let’s get on with it’’, but with that an acknowledgement that recovery is going to take months and years, not days and weeks.

Farming charities like the Farming Community Network, of which I am a trustee, expect to continue to offer advice and support to farmers for a long time to come, and all that on top of the ongoing anxiety around a no-deal Brexit scenario.

The Reeth Show went ahead - despite recent floods.

The Reeth Show went ahead - despite recent floods.

Many farmers are isolated, and run the risk of being forgotten about. Yet their role in the big picture of what it takes to feed a nation is absolutely vital, and deserves not to be ignored or relegated to a footnote of what matters at this time of upheaval and uncertainty.

In recent days, The Yorkshire Post has highlighted the important role that churches play in their local communities, and that has been evident in the floods.

The vicar in Reeth, Caroline Hewlett, was herself caught up in the drama: her home was flooded, and her garden shed ended up at the far end of the field over the road, wedged in an uncomfortable position between two trees.

Caroline is now ‘‘sofa surfing’’ (house-sitting) and will move into temporary accommodation later in September.

As I walked around with her, I could see clearly not just how she is held in high regard by people, but how her local knowledge was invaluable in offering support, encouragement and advocacy for those who were less able to vocalise how they were feeling.

It’s a known fact that news moves on, and dare I say there is plenty happening at the moment to compete for attention, but in the midst of that, let’s be mindful of the people and places who quietly persist in the most challenging of circumstances, and let their stories be heard too.

* The Right Reverend Dr Helen-Ann Hartley is the Bishop of Ripon.