Community spirit is helping Yorkshire recover post-floods
00:00 26 February 2016
People are coming together to help Yorkshire bounce back after the devastating floods that brought misery to thousands. Andrew Vine reports
Determination is one of Yorkshire’s defining qualities, and the county’s people have needed all their reserves of it in recent weeks. The floods that swept across North and West Yorkshire over Christmas brought with them a tide of heartache as homes and businesses were swamped and lives thrown into turmoil. The wettest December on record left 9,000 properties flooded, 2,000 businesses badly affected and caused an estimated £5bn of damage.
And behind those headline figures lie thousands of personal stories, of families whose possessions have been destroyed facing months of upheaval before normal life can resume, or companies brought to the brink of ruin.
Recriminations over whether the Government should have done more to prevent the floods are likely to rumble on for many months, particularly over its refusal in 2011 to fund a £190m protection scheme along 12 miles of the River Aire, that could have stopped the devastation parts of Leeds suffered.
But Yorkshire is fighting back. The people of York, Leeds, Tadcaster, Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd have taken a deep breath, got on with clearing up the damage, and with true Yorkshire grit are refusing to be beaten by the elements.
Communities large and small have pulled together. Across the county, recovery schemes are under way, driven by both Government funding and local initiatives that are attracting widespread support.
The mainspring for the recovery operation is £40m of funding announced by the Prime Minister after visiting York to see the damage for himself, to be spent on repairing and improving Yorkshire’s battered flood defences.
Additionally, the county will get its share of £50m announced to help communities across the north of England rebuild and repair. There is also money to restore two historic landmarks – and vital transport links – which were wrecked by the raging torrents of water.
Up to £5.5m will be spent on repairing Elland Bridge, and building a temporary footbridge nearby whilst the work is carried out. And in Tadcaster, where the town was cut in half by the partial collapse of its 300-year-old bridge, £3.3m has been earmarked for its restoration and to pay for a temporary crossing.
Flood-hit communities are going all out to help themselves. In Calderdale, where more than 1,000 businesses were affected, a crowd-funding drive has been launched with a target of £150,000 to help the worst-hit get back on their feet.
Calderdale Rising is appealing for donations and the response has been heartening. The campaign is spelling out just how much help the area’s businesses need needs, saying: ‘Typically thriving and vibrant towns, high streets, and industrial estates are now subdued. Their people are in shock and shattered. Business owners, in some cases, are facing months of repairs to rebuild their broken enterprises.’
Hebden Bridge typified the way communities pulled together. Parts of the town were chest-high in floodwater, and once it subsided, people began cleaning the streets, donating clothing to those who only had what they stood up in, and welcoming those flooded out into their homes.
The town’s creative co-working space, The Egg Factory, found room for business people to open pop-up shops, where flood-damaged stock could be raffled in aid of the Calderdale Flood Fund, or sold at a discount to at least partially offset losses.
Schoolchildren across Calderdale have been invited by Gez Walsh, the area’s official poet laureate, and young laureate Joel Duncan, to contribute poems and prose to a book provisionally entitled Floods of Tears And Laughter to be sold in aid of the fund.
In York, the recovery continues to involve thousands of the city’s people. The York Flood Appeal was set up to give grants to those affected, and will receive a major boost from a charity concert entitled Hold Back the River at the Barbican on March 6. Among the performers is soprano Rebecca Newman, who has recorded a charity CD, Bridge Over Troubled Water, to raise funds. The CD cover features a new picture, entitled Flood Lights, by artist Mark Braithwaite of Petergate’s The Braithwaite Gallery, which is being raffled in aid of the appeal.
York has also seen charity dinners, and the launch of a specially-brewed ale from Masham-based Theakston’s, Noah’s Ark, with 10p from every pint going to Community Foundations across the north helping with flood relief.
But recovery is also about repairing the damage that Yorkshire’s economy has suffered. One key area that has been badly affected is the county’s £7bn-a-year tourist industry. In York, hotels, pubs, and restaurants have seen a spate of cancellations in the wake of the flooding, alongside a steep drop in the usual level of bookings.
The city, along with the rest of the county, is now sending out a clear message the recovery is well under way – and that Yorkshire is open for business.
• Details of Hold Back the River can be found at www.yorkbarbican.co.uk
• Calderdale Rising can be found at www.crowdfunder.co.uk/calderdalerising
• Tickets for the raffle of the painting Flood Lights are at www.yorkartist.com