Friday 30 September 2016

Midsummer Christmas dinner for communities ravaged by floods in December

Published 25/06/2016 | 15:26

Christmas dinner is served in Hebden Bridge
Christmas dinner is served in Hebden Bridge

Residents in West Yorkshire have finally been able to sit down and enjoy Christmas dinner - six months to the day after flood sirens rang out warning of rising waters.

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Today's Calder Valley scene was wholly different to what had faced residents on Boxing Day 2015 after December's unprecedented rainfall forced any planned festivities to be cancelled as it became submerged underwater.

But on a sunny June 25 and teaming sunglasses with Christmas hats, revellers in the market town of Hebden Bridge and neighbouring Mytholmroyd today raised their glasses to a belated Christmas Day as they partied up and down the same street which only months ago had been turned into a river.

With the weather on their side, the sounds of We Wish You A Merry Christmas and Jingle Bells sounded out in the town square which had been unreachable after the River Calder burst its banks.

Despite sandbags still in situ serving as a reminder of the devastation, throngs of people who had helped in the aftermath of the devastation turned out to what was dubbed Hebden Royd Alternative Christmas Day.

Hundreds of people flocked to the two towns which saw street parties, live music, a Christmas market and plenty of mulled wine.

Many of the businesses that had succumbed to the water chose today to officially re-open, declaring that the area was "open for business" following six long months of tears and hard work.

And volunteers who had helped with the clean-up operation enjoyed Christmas dinner with all the trimmings in the sunshine as Santa wished everyone a "Merry Christmas".

Many of the revellers in attendance had been unable to celebrate Christmas - instead making desperate attempts to move their possessions and goods to higher levels - only to see flood water rise above windows and doors.

Kerry Wheelwright from the Hebden Bridge Community Association who helped oversee the event said the day had been born following the reoccurring comment that: "Christmas would have to be put on hold".

She said: "It's six months on from the floods and the purpose of today is to show the wider community and everyone else that we are open for business and to thank the hundreds who came to help us."

It was on Christmas Day last year that the warning from the former air raid siren bellowed out. At 7am on Boxing Day people were woken to another drill before being forced out of their homes and businesses.

Miss Wheelwright added: "People couldn't enjoy Christmas day because they knew what was about to happen. They were moving stuff to a higher level but it still got flooded. It was the worse it has ever been. People's clothes and stock from their shops was floating away, there were people crying - it was awful."

In the days following the floods, in excess of 750 people descended in the valley to offer their help including the Army.

"One 95-year-old woman even said she was sorry she couldn't help shovel but that she would bake some pies," Miss Wheelwright continues.

At the Town Hall where refuge was sought, meals were served and databases set up to rehome people - some of whom are still not back in their homes.

Businesswoman Amy Plimley who owns the Lamppost Cafe which backs onto the River Calder said that although the business had cover, her insurers were not paying out and as a result lost £30,000.

She said it had been a long struggle for the hundreds of independent businesses in Hebden Bridge which were forced to be ripped out and renovated.

But Ms Plimley said: "It came in from the back and front. We had to just sit and watch and wait for it to go down. You do what you can and carry on. You ask yourself 'do you carry on or do you walk away' - you have just got to stick with it."

One resident Kathryn Pogue, 22, said the flooding had been "terrifying" especially as people were being rescued by boats.

"Everyone grabbed what they could - buckets and brushes to try and help the people in the town. It was about 8ft high in the town centre, beer barrels were floating down the street. We were completely cut off."

She added: "I think today really celebrates how well we work together."

Today the same bikers who had served as security for the area after looters targets shops and properties, got back on their tinsel trimmed motorcycles to join in with the celebrations.

Miss Wheelwright added: "It's amazing having all these people back and to see the local businesses doing well again and people shopping local. The response has been brilliant and the community has come together."

Press Association

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