Flooding doesn’t happen to you. It becomes you. A town is simply an extension of one, and the other. Following the entanglement of the flood, the streets of Hebden Bridge demonstrate a strong set of shared values; of kindness, support and most importantly sharing. This is what I have seen as I have been helping Nelsons and Hebble End mop up is a group of people acting as one, defiantly mopping up the flood.
Everyone in a flood needs help, but they also need a companion. When a change happens overnight and seeps into your skin, rises through your nostrils and deposits its own watermark beneath fingernails, mutual witnessing, acknowledgment and encouragement go a long way. The flood becomes everything, like an endless headache, or high pitch ringing in the ears. It is everywhere. The reality of the flood is embodied, immediate, unrelenting and raging. Then there is the aftermath. The remaining water, seeping into carpets, cars, floorboards, flagstones, walls, cement blocks, wires, clothes, food, water pipes. It takes everything from the excesses to the basics. The water has ripped up bridges, streets, schools and shops. This is day 3 of the aftermath, and not a single shop is open for business in the centre of town. The only business for everyone is trying to mop up a force so strong that it’s effects will be lasting way beyond the immediate clear up.
Hebden Bridge is famed for it’s alternative community. Built on a social history of working class textile industry come more recently, left leaning community of low income, but rich thinking academics, artists and mis-fits. This is where I grew up, and where my mum continues to live, and write in depth about local and national politics, as well as standing last year as Green Party MP. Although I no longer live here, my personal story is entwined with this town, and to see it in such a state renders a visceral experience of disorientation and sadness alongside an irrepressible and empowering survival instinct.
I think the amount of real, immediate sharing taking place here is quite remarkable; especially when a perfectly reasonable response would be to lie down and weep, or simply leave. A lot of businesses don’t have insurance, due to their recent claiming from much smaller floods earlier in the year. Most of the town is comprised of independent businesses the feeds into the local economy. The shops are not identi-kit stores, but they are the bread and butter of peoples lives. Many people on the street speak of a lot of trade simply not being able to financially recover The economic implications are significant; there will be less trade open to citizens and tourists, and more people will have to find already scarce work outside of the town. I think Hebden is due to become significantly poorer in the next year, but perhaps it will be the glue that binds an already resilient community more tightly together. But social bonds are not enough; political clout is needed too.
When you get beyond the hive of activity on the Calderdale Flood Aid page, it is shocking is the lack of media coverage on the causes of the flood. How can we prevent the floods again, if the causes aren’t understood. George Monbiot has been making sane arguments for a while now, but the immediate reporting of the floods is remarkably sparse on discussing the causes. Without spending time figuring out effective systemic action, residents from town that flood regularly, are tethered to a volatile whirlpool of political problems that cause personal pain. Despite the lack of saying so in national media, these floods are a result of climate change, as well as a corrupt local preference of hunting sports for the rich.
The Ban the Burn campaign, has been active within the town for over a year. It calls for an end to burning and draining the blanket bog on Walshaw Moor. These practices are regularly employed by Walshow Moor grouse-shooting estate, to provide a habitat for unnaturally large numbers of grouse; so that those who take pleasure in breeding animals to kill for excessive pleasure, can have their merry way. For me, this is also a class issue; a violent sport of the rich condemns the land and a local population to decreased life quality. In terms of environmental, social and economic impact, the sport of destroying habitat for grouse shooting is costly. Environmental consultant and research scientist Dr Aidan Foley states that among other things damage to moorland blanket bogs includes increased flood risk in Hebden Bridge, significantly increased carbon emissions, adverse impacts of water quality and the destruction of a globally significant habitat type. Alongside global and local causes of problems in need of address, there is also the pressing question of why Cameron has insisted on year on year cutting of flood funds. Since the first coalition government he has ignored warnings from the 2008 Pitt Review – a systematic analysis of major floods in 2007 – concluding that much more funding was needed. In January 2012, the government’s own research showed increased flooding is the greatest threat posed by climate change in England. But when heavy flooding hit in the summer of 2012, the Guardian revealed that almost 300 proposed flood defences had not gone ahead as planned following the cuts. Meanwhile Owen Paterson, environment secretary in 2013 cut the number of officials working on national flooding strategy from 38 to 6. Nice. More recently, in November 2014 it was announced that local authority flood funding would be cut by a third. Earlier in June, the government was recommended by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) to develop a strategy for the increasing number of homes at risk in areas prone to increased flooding. They seemed to care a great deal, and in October replied: “We believe that a strategy to address future residual risk would not be appropriate at this time.” Basically the government are cutting funds to the destructive and highly expensive phenomena of flooding, which climate scientist say is 40% more likely in the UK due to Climate Change.
Once again, their interest is economic efficiency and austerity, which doesn’t work anyway, as the cost of flooding is vast. Who said citizens were worth caring about. In the lack of structural care provided through adequate policies, residents of Hebden continue to shine a torch of kindness, generosity and mutuality. It is inspirational to see such robust community provisions, from residents and beyond. If anyone wants to help the dire circumstances of a drowned out town which is one of many damaged by increased flooding, start thinking about how you can contribute to action against climate change, and in the immediate term, you can donate here.