FOLLOWING extensive damage during the Boxing Day floods of 2015, the church of St Michael, Mytholmroyd was rededicated by the Archbishop of York, on August 6, 2017. It a very joyous occasion which he described as “fantabulous”.
Just two and a half years later, St Michael’s and its community hall have flooded once again. The cause was the unprecedented rainfall which accompanied Storm Ciara, causing the River Calder to rise to a height of 16 feet, three feet higher than ever previously recorded.
The congregation, according to Reverend Cathy Reardon, are beginning the mop up but face both the church and community hall being out of commission for some weeks, possibly months.
The damage to St Michael’s is just a small part of the devastation caused by Storm Ciara down the length of the Calder Valley.
The flood waters cut off Todmorden and Walsden for some hours, phone lines and power lines were down and a number of businesses were flooded, many losing thousands of pounds worth of stock.
Todmorden Church of England Junior, Infant and Nursery School is currently closed while a professional flooding management company begins to dry out the classrooms.
The scenes are heartbreaking.
The Reverend John Jukes, vicar of Todmorden, described flood damaged furniture and personal possessions lining the streets on Ewood Road and Burnley Road, and people have been, quite literally, pumping out their houses.
In Hebden Bridge, Mytholmroyd and Sowerby Bridge, there are similar scenes of ruined shop stock or personal possessions thrown out into the street as the great “mop-up” begins.
As ever in such circumstances, people have pulled together and shown immense resilience and courage.
The churches have played their part in this.
Christ Church Sowerby Bridge has opened its doors as one of the flood relief hubs across the valley, where cleaning materials and food are distributed.
St Marys, Todmorden, has become a distribution centre for food parcels for those who cannot use their kitchens to cook because of flood damage.
The Reverend Paul Webb, Vicar of Brighouse, who is also a Chaplain to the Fire Service, has been supporting fire crews engaged in the relief effort.
And Reverend Karen Marshall, the recently appointed vicar of Hebden Bridge and Heptonstall, cancelled the Sunday Service at St James Hebden Bridge in order to give practical help in mopping out affected businesses within the town.
However, people are desperately worried too.
“When will it ever end?” one woman asked me.
We were told that the flood of 2015 was a “once in a lifetime” event. Now we have had two such events in four years.
Some business owners are on the brink of giving up, feeling unable to face the long haul to rebuild their businesses once again.
Many are also facing financial ruin as they were unable to obtain any insurance after 2015.
Healthy Minds has expressed concern at the effects of the floods on mental health.
There was a reported increase in mental health issues being experienced by people in these communities after the floods of 2015 and this is only likely to increase.
Not surprisingly, there is anger too, from some because the £30m flood defences that were supposed to protect these communities failed to do so – no doubt there will be enquiries as to what exactly happened.
But eye witness reports described water pouring through the unfinished defences that were months behind schedule.
Others remember how dredging the river used to be a routine event every winter and how flood damage has increased over the last decade since that ceased to happen.
What is needed now, desperately needed, if these proud communities are not to become ghost towns, is Government support – both in the short and longer term.
In the short term, funds need to be made available for those whose kitchens have been ruined and for businesses who have lost all their stock because they were not able to get insurance.
A scheme for future affordable insurance is also needed, perhaps subsidised by the Government, for those who live in these communities at high risk from flooding.
And, in the longer term, there need to be better and more robust flood defences in the Calder Valley and elsewhere where communities are threatened by regular and devastating flooding.
In 2015 when visiting Mytholmroyd, the Archbishop of York was “encouraged by the tremendous spirit, resolve and generosity that is shown in communities affected by such hazards”.
This week the communities of the Calder Valley have again shown that same spirit, resolve and generosity.
But this time round they are also tired.
They need help. And they need it now.
* The Venerable Dr Anne Dawtry is Archdeacon of Halifax in the Diocese of Leeds.