Hebden Bridge Afloat

19th January 2016

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This is a post I hadn’t wanted to write. Our beautiful and unique town, along with the others along the Calder Valley, were devastated by terrible flooding on Boxing Day.

(Please scroll straight down, if you want to go straight to ways you can help)


On the far right is the canal, pouring down the bank into the park, on the far left is the river. Our park is in between

On the far right is the canal, pouring down the bank into the park, on the far left is the river. Our park is in between


The dread you feel when you wake up to the sound of an air raid siren at 7am on a Boxing Day morning is hard to describe. Like every black and white WW2 movie you’ve ever watched, the sound goes right through you. Of course, this was no air raid, and thankfully we were not risking imminent attack by the Germans, but the sirens along our valley are old air raid sirens. Our attacker was water.


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It had rained and rained for weeks, most of November and December, in fact. We are very lucky because we live on the side of the valley, not the bottom. After all the rain we had been having for weeks, we narrowly missed flooding two weeks before. More sirens that time, too. and we nearly got stranded in Manchester whilst Christmas shopping as there was a landslide on the train line at Walsden. The trip home that night was Manchester – Leeds via Huddersfield and back to Hebden Bridge which took over 3 hours instead of the usual 40 minutes. So much water was pouring off the steep hillsides that we did fear the worst for our house for several hours, as the cloudburst in carved a large channel out of the path up behind our house, which comes from the woods way above and it was a raging torrent.


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Sketchy photo, but that is what pouring over the top of the wall from the woods behind our house


When we had our double floods in 2012, the river reached its highest recorded level – 3.33m (bear in mind it averages about 0.75m ). This time is was recorded in the same station at 3.61! The river burst it’s banks, the canal overflowed it’s banks, and the whole valley filled up to unprecedented levels. Going out for a walk with the dog, and what must have been the peak of the flood, we were trapped up on the hill by water on all valley sides.


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I left the house and saw a large coastguard helicopter buzzing up and down the valley – that’s the COASTGUARD! In fact, it seemed to be following me, looking for somewhere to land. In the end I stopped and watched men and a stretcher being lowered down which you could see from the news coverage was to rescue a man from his land rover who had driven right into the flood in Mytholmroyd, but I couldn’t see that far from where I was.


A 5m wide whirlpool of garden equipment and footballs in front of the bridge. Water is normally metres below. In the background is the canal overflowing onto the road

A 5m wide whirlpool of garden equipment and footballs in front of the bridge. Water is normally metres below. In the background is the canal overflowing onto the road

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The power of the water as it thundered against the tops of the bridges, where it normally dawdles underneath was incredible and very scary. Then I walked to Machpelah and saw just how much of town was devastated. So upsetting as it sunk in what was really going on. Almost all the retail area of town was under feet of water. Gog know what it was like in people’s cellars and kitchens. So many people have kitchens in their cellars around here.

The schools were flooded beyond what had been expected. Central St was flooded last time (Lily went there at the time), so staff had been in and moved things up and away this time, but the water was so much higher, everything downstairs was trashed. Lily’s current school, Burnley Road Academy, was totally ruined, and with almost all classrooms being downstairs, 260 children have had to be relocated to other schools. Fortunately this has been able to be accommodated very well, I can only applaud the staff. The school will be closed for 6 months.


Year 5's violins, all ruined. Lily had been having such fun learning this

Year 5’s violins, all ruined. Lily had been having such fun learning this


Mytholmroyd flood at Burnley Rd Academy


Much has been written by more eloquent people than me about the aftermath, and the way that our community came together to help each other, and the way that people from all over the country rallied round, arrived with food, clothing, basic disaster relief packages. Most striking was the way that the Sikh, Muslim and Syrian communities arrived in force and got stuck in. Khalsa Aid are a charity that help people in disaster and war zones all over the world – they came! I didn’t see the EDL, UKIP or Britain First ‘looking after its own’ –  just saying.

Each town organised a central hub for people to go to, entirely organised by just the communities themselves. Incredible. Central town in Hebden Bridge was out of power for several days – no electricity for pumps, to light the cleanup into the night, heat homes. People were in real need, suddenly a few hours of water reduces us to the dark ages. Not helped by the fact that the phone masts were down for most networks (this happened BEFORE the flood)

We went and helped where we could, shoveling black slime from peoples shops and studios and Lily’s school, whilst Gary grabbed a friend and did numerous tip runs of peoples life possessions, covered in sludge. Heart breaking. It’s happened before, it keeps happening. Many homes and shops are not covered for flood damage which is unlawful, in my opinion, since that is something that people need help with.

How can you help?

We are past that urgent post apocalyptic stage now, thank god (my twelve year old’s words for it!), but Hebden Bridge still needs help. Many shops are opening again, but still others will be out for ages. Pop ups have appeared in other places, so that people can start trading.

You can help us, very much.

  • You can donate to a fund I have set up a fund to help a friend and unique business keep going, Chrissie from Hat Therapy, whose shop was flooded. Being one of the most positive people I know, she’s got on with things, ripped up floors, removed plaster, and rearranged her once beautiful shop so that the workroom is now the showroom, accessed via her back door! She now makes things with her interns in her lounge, because the family live above their shop. Their allotment is covered in a foot of river slurry and effluent, and their home is the shop. It takes some umph to remain positive! Repairs are booked in to restore the shop, but this will take months, and the biggest worry is monthly bills still arriving, but no shoppers in Hebden Bridge to keep their income going.

Donate to Hat Therapy here

You can read Chrissie’s own words about the flood here

  • You can donate to the Calderdale Flood Relief Fund to help local residents get back on their feet

Donate to the Calderdale Flood Relief Fund Here

  • You can come to Hebden Bridge shopping! Many shops are open in all kinds of exciting and creative ways, this being such a unique and creative town! Pop up shops, messages of thanks to the public daubed on windows, quite a few sandbags lying around (we are understandably nervous!), enough cafes to keep you going on your way around! I would suggest hopping on the train, to ease parking worries, and keep the roads clear which are still affected by damage done by the flood.

Although I wasn’t flooded, it affects everyone, and I am understandably worried about the future of the town I chose to move to 15 years ago. It was Hebden Bridges unique creativeness at brought me here, but being full of independent businesses, not large chains, the cost of this falls firmly on them. Many who had insurance certainly won’t again, and many didn’t.

If you’d like to read better accounts than mine, may I recommend the following:

Michele Howarth Rashman – ‘The Once In A Lifetime Floods That Keep On Happening

Twisted Willow – ‘Hope Floats’

Sally Ashworth – ‘Trying To Stay Afloat’

In the next post I’m going to tell you what I’m doing to help …

Rachel x

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