Hebden Bridge - a place that is out of the ordinary

PUBLISHED: 14:49 10 December 2012 | UPDATED: 22:29 20 February 2013

Hebden Bridge - a place that is out of the ordinary

Hebden Bridge - a place that is out of the ordinary

It was the sort of disaster that might have broken a lesser town but no one has ever accused Hebden Bridge of being ordinary as Terry Fletcher reports

When the heavens opened on a June evening and the rain poured off the sodden hillsides into the centre of Hebden Bridge flooding homes and shops it was traumatic. But next morning the town set about the task of clearing mud and worse from the buildings, clearing the streets, salvaging stock and getting back to normal as quickly as possible.

A week later Prince Charles came to the Calder Valley to see the devastation for himself and was amazed by the progress that had been made. There was a resolution to get back to business as quickly as possible. Then, a few weeks later, it all happened again.

A months rain fell in a few hours and, as the Hebden Bridge Web reported, roads became rivers as the water poured through every valley, track and hole in the wall. The water in Market Street, part of the main shopping area, was reported to be waist deep, the Square was underwater and roads to Burnley and Keighley flooded.

It was the sort of double disaster that could have broken a lesser town but no one has ever accused Hebden Bridge of being ordinary. Now it has bounced back in its own unique way, drawing on a seemingly bottomless well of community spirit and a wealth of creative energy that is almost a force of nature itself.

The result is that with Christmas round the corner the town is bursting with confidence and looking forward to a festive shopping boom as the customers and tourists come back. Amy Leader, the towns Business Development Officer, said: The first flood was bad but the second was much worse. You get a bit of an adrenalin rush after a flood. Its awful but you see what has to be done and fight your way through. That was what was happening but no one expected the second one that undid all the good work. But thats no reason to give up.

Rob Holden, a local resident started a Facebook page which produced a small army of volunteers armed by mops and buckets to help with the clean up. The floods were devastating but what happened afterwards was a real display of the strength of this town. Something good came out of it, said Amy.

Every day was another step back towards normality and one by one shops reopened. Among the first was the Yorkshire Soap Company, which produces hand made toiletries for its shop in Market Street. Joint owner Marcus Doyle was determined to be back in business as quickly as possible and made such a good job of it that when Prince Charles visited he thought the shop had escaped the flood.

Marcus said: This has been our hardest summer ever but we were determined to come back stronger than ever and, surprisingly, weve had our strongest summer with sales up 25 per cent on last year. Thats partly thanks to local people rallying round to support us and to visitors coming to see what happened and spending in the shops. Hebden Bridge is definitely open for business and ready to welcome Christmas shoppers.

Not that success has come easily. Plans for a branch in York had to be mothballed for three months while the problems in Hebden were sorted out, though that has now opened in Blake Street in the city centre. A sister shop, Home...Oh, also in Market Street, has had to close while it is re-located to the first floor of the Soap Company.

Insurance pay-outs have helped to speed the towns restoration but this being Hebden Bridge there have been some less conventional sources too with artists chipping in as well. Local artist Helen Russell of Mercury Arts came up with the idea of an art auction to raise money to help local businesses and put it on her Twitter feed. She had no idea what she was starting. The response was amazing Offers of help started to come in from all around the country, she said.

Soon a stunning range of works from paintings and photographs to ceramics and jewellery had been pledged and more than a hundred items went under the hammer at an auction in September raising 6,500. That in turn is being spent of a Pop Up Hebden which will go on display in towns and cities across the North to tell potential visitors that Hebden is back in business.

Other events have included a food festival, a poetry trail in which a dozen haiku short three line poems by John Siddique will be displayed in the windows of local shops and a Festive Fandango in which Christmas shoppers buying from local stores will get stamps on a card when they spend more than 5. Once five have been collected the card will be entered into a prize draw

Hebden Bridge has always been a great place for Christmas shopping because all the little artisan shops making and selling unique products and now he message is going out that we are still here and better than ever, said Marcus.

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