On Boxing Day morning at 7 am, after months of heavy rain, we were woken by the sound of flood sirens as the river Calder burst its banks. Within an hour, the valley where I live in West Yorkshire, England, was six feet underwater.
Children lost the Christmas presents they had received a day earlier, families were made homeless, cars were floating around in the streets, and in the pretty low-lying towns of Hebden Bridge, Todmorden and Mytholmroyd, small businesses were completely devastated. Everyone here in the Calder Valley is either affected or knows someone who is.
The last time we saw flooding like this was back in 1968, and most were not prepared (or even insured) for the damage. The scene was the same all over the north of England: in York, Leeds, Manchester, Lancashire and Cumbria, sinkholes opened up, the army was called in to rescue those trapped in their homes, and whole buildings and bridges collapsed into the deluge.
Ten days later, it’s still a chaotic scene where I live. But these kinds of disasters bring out the best in people, and the response from kind-hearted strangers has been overwhelming. In just four days, the local community raised £175,000 to help flood victims, people volunteered their time during the Christmas holiday to help in the clean-up operation, and residents have driven up to the North from other parts of Britain to offer free machinery for cleaning and dehumidifying, free carpet-fitting, and other essential services to those hit the hardest.
Thousands of people have donated money and materials, shelter and food, and local supermarkets have sent out teams of volunteers to help those in need, even giving away free cleaning materials, brushes and buckets. People have donated new furniture, charity music gigs have been arranged, a crowdfunding page has been set up- and in addition to the support offered by churches in the area, the local Muslim community in particular has shown incredible generosity.
The Islam Centre in nearby Halifax brought hot food to people in the Calder valley, while Muslim volunteers from charity groups The Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, One Nation, and the Al-Mubarak Foundation visited the area to help flood victims.
They coordinated relief efforts with a local church, sent out volunteers to help people clean up their homes and businesses, and have even opened their doors to homeless families. The solidarity shown by so many Muslim and Sikh community groups is heartwarming and has made the local tragedy much easier to deal with.
Local resident Jenny Courtney Fidgeon, badly affected by the floods, left this heart-warming message on a local Facebook page for victims:
“While walking through Hebden today for the first time since boxing day when we lost our home, I realised something; life, love and a restored faith in humanity has come out of this disaster. I feel so proud of this community…people of all faiths and walks of life have come together to help each other. Community spirit still reigns.”
Perhaps the strangest sight we have seen in recent days are the big, burly-looking bikers hanging out on street corners with their Harley Davidsons. They look tough. They look intimidating. But forget the ‘Hells’ part: these lads are angels, full stop.
Four different biker gangs have travelled to the flood-hit towns in this valley to deter looters: because as much as these events bring out the best in humanity, they inevitably highlight the worst, too. Victims who have emptied their destroyed homes and businesses have been targeted by a small minority of callous thieves, who saw the tragedy as an opportunity to take what they can from the mud-stained streets as the floodwater receded.
Bikers have done a great job of scaring away would-be thieves by patrolling the area throughout the night since Tuesday. The local community and police have been welcoming to these unusual volunteers, offering them food and hot drinks for their service. Hero biker Kath Dearden sent this touching message of mutual appreciation to local people on Facebook:
“Our team worked tirelessly in the rain all with smiles on their faces. I’m so proud of each and everyone of you guys n girls…thank you yet again. We will still be patrolling New Years Eve and every day until you don’t need us anymore. We feel like one big family. You are all so kind leaving us food hot drinks. And thank you to the fantastic family who brought us trays and trays of home made curry…total respect to all tonight…keep up the good work..xx”
Despite the devastation, the floods haven’t destroyed the true spirit of Christmas. The worst flooding in decades may have ruined our holidays, but it’s also restored our faith in humanity.
View original on the True Activist site. (How The Love Shown By Muslims And Biker Gangs Saved My Flooded Town). Note: my Yorkshire friends complain about American spellings. My editor complains about English spellings. This version is English, but I don’t usually ‘correct’ articles before publishing them here. Whichever side of the pond you are on, please don’t moan about spelling ‘errors’- it’s hard being British and working on American magazines!