Floods Swamped Yorkshire But The Community Spirit Wasn’T Dampened

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Over the last few weeks, Yorkshire, and much of the north of England have been battling nature with unprecedented floods. Homes and businesses have been destroyed as the rain fell and fell and fell, causing rivers across the region to burst their banks. The devastation caused has been the worst for generations, with many life-long residents of Leeds having ‘never seen anything like it’. As this issue of the Yorkshire Reporter went to print, a mass clear-up operation was underway but with threats of more downpours hanging over communities like a dark cloud, is this winter going to further test the stoic citizens of Yorkshire?
Many areas of Yorkshire have been badly hit including Hebden Bridge and Todmorden. York has dealt with floods in the past too, but the water levels spewing over from the River Ouse and Foss this time has been horrific. The water is receding at an extremely slow rate, and this beautiful city with its tourist attractions has been swamped. The much loved Jorvik Viking Centre is closed until further notice – which may be as long as 12 months. Sarah Maltby, the director of attractions for York Archaeological Trust said “When we first became aware of water leaking into the basement, we immediately transported all of the historic artefacts within Jorvik up to the first floor, and they have now been moved off-site to a safe location. We are devastated by the scale of the water incursion in what, until now had been a watertight basement.” The team at YAT are working incredibly hard to get the attraction re-open as soon as possible but with around 50cm of water to be pumped out plus vast repairs, there is no timescale at present. Popular riverside pubs were nearly completely submerged, and residents living in parts of the city were evacuated by the armed forces and the rescue services as the decision was taken to lift the Foss Barrier, causing otherwise normally safe areas to flood. York has been flooded to such an extent that sandbags were being dropped into the city by a Chinook Helicopter, as road access was so limited!
As used to flooding as York is, one city not used to being so completely overwhelmed by the forces of nature is Leeds. Over the last decade or so, the riverside in the city has been extensively developed creating luxury apartments, restaurants, bars and shops. These areas were evacuated as the River Aire turned into a torrent racing through the city, causing road closures and power cuts due to the flooding. People in the city centre for the Boxing Day sales looked on in horror as the river visibly swelled before their eyes. The area in Leeds most badly hit by flooding though was Kirkstall. The busy Kirkstall Road was completely closed off as it was completely swallowed up by water from the river. The Cardigan Fields complex and the brand new Kirkstall Bridge Shopping Park were affected, but perhaps more poignantly people had to leave their homes and possessions to the elements. Hollywood Bowl at Cardigan Fields told us “We had to evacuate everyone from our building on the night of the floods and thankfully everyone was out of the park before it became dangerous to leave, and impossible for cars. Despite all the damage the water has done to the park and other sites, Hollywood Bowl was untouched inside and suffered no damage amazingly! We have been lucky, we feel for the fellow businesses on the park and all those affected by the floods.” Kirkstall Road is also lined with small independent businesses who have had to close their doors until they are able to bounce back. One such business owner is Azram Chaudry, owner of the popular Sheesh Mahal restaurant who told us “The restaurant has been badly affected by the floods. In all the years I have never seen it as bad as this before, there is a lot of damage, we have been surrounded by wonderful people though and everyone has been giving their best to get Sheesh Mahal open as soon as possible.”
Following the river running into the streets of Kirkstall, further tragedy struck in Yorkshire with the collapse of Tadcaster bridge. The shocking moment when the sheer force of the river and all the debris overwhelmed the bridge was caught on camera. There was an immediate evacuation of the area as gas pipes were affected by the collapse. Geographically, the town in now split in two, and residents are having to make a 15 -minute drive round to access the opposite side of town. This will be the case for several months probably as the bridge is assessed and repaired.
One positive we can take from the tragic situation however, is that the north of England has proven to cynics that community spirit is very much alive and thriving. In a time when there is talk of a lack of community and a segregated society, the people of Yorkshire have pulled together, neighbours working side by side to get things done. In Kirkstall, local councillors have been helping out as much as they can. Cllr Lucinda Yeadon helped to organise a massive clean-up operation via pleas for volunteers on social media sites. People from far and wide turned up armed with shovels, brushes and wellies to assist with cleaning up, making sandbags and anything else that was necessary in order for businesses and homes to begin their journey on the road to recovery. One such volunteer was James Steele who went along with his sons Luke and Ben. He told us “We saw the news asking for volunteers and it was the kids’ idea to come and help, so we’ve been mopping out the small shops who have been hit really badly. The flood took everybody by surprise I think. We didn’t think it was going to be as bad as it was. Some of the smaller shops have lost just about everything.” Leeds City Council have put together a financial assistance package for those affected. Leader of Leeds City Council Councillor Judith Blake said:
“The council is committed to doing everything it can to provide help and support to householders and businesses affected by the awful floods. We have already announced that households affected by flooding will receive up to £500 to help with recovery costs. We have also announced that householders flooded will receive council tax relief and this will be for a minimum of three months or while anyone is out of their home if longer.
“Similarly we have also confirmed that we will introduce a business rate relief scheme for businesses affected by flooding and again this will be for a minimum of three months. In addition to this we are developing a business support scheme for small and medium sized businesses to help those affected recover from the impacts of Storm Eva. As a further measure we are looking to introduce a grant scheme that provides up to £5000 per property flooded to make properties more resilient to future flooding.”
As well as communities uniting, large companies have also offered their help where possible. Tesco Extra Seacroft donated cleaning equipment and a team from the store arrived in Kirkstall to join in the clean-up operation. Community Champion at Tesco, Tracy Exley told us “Seeing our community struggle in such difficult circumstances really affected us. Colleagues were really keen to help. We felt very privileged to be able to contribute and felt very proud to work shoulder to shoulder with our neighbours to make a difference in difficult times.”
DIY giant B&Q donated equipment to help in the cleanup here in Yorkshire and in Cumbria, and Yorkshire Water have had teams on the ground to help, whilst also pledging help and advice with water bills for people out of their homes due to the flooding.
Charitable organisations have also been helping out where they can. One such organisation is Team Rubicon. Team Rubicon unites the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams world-wide. They also seek to provide veterans with three things they lose after leaving the military: a purpose, gained through disaster relief; community, built by serving with others; and self-worth, from recognising the impact one individual can make. Military veterans are a huge national asset and they want to continue to serve, both helping emergencies at home and disasters abroad. Disasters and emergencies small and large need volunteers who will galvanise local response, coordinate volunteers and bring practical skills learnt in the military such as hard disciplined work!
Team Rubicon had a team of volunteers assisting the people of Yorkshire following the devastating impact of the unprecedented flooding over Christmas and Boxing day. Operation: Calcaria focused initially on Tadcaster, supporting the community in clearing homes and businesses and providing support to volunteers and affected households. Following the partial collapse of the bridge, the Team Rubicon volunteers, who had travelled from all over the UK, assisted with evacuation of homes until the risk of gas leaks had been lifted.
David Wiseman is a volunteer with Team Rubicon, and also a resident of Tadcaster. He told us that Team Rubicon was set up in the USA in 2008 following the Haiti disaster, but it has only been operational in the UK for a few months. David has personally assisted Team Rubicon abroad in Nepal as well as Keswick in Cumbria and now his home town of Tadcaster. He told us “In Tadcaster, around 60 buildings have been affected – predominately small family businesses and residential properties. However, community buildings such as the Church, Medical Centre and the Swimming Baths have been badly affected too. We helped with co-ordination and the initial cleanup operation, removing debris from buildings and getting on the phone to order skips etc. As a resident, I am really proud to say I’m from Tadcaster. I am so impressed by how everyone has pulled together, there is a real community spirit here. It has been bandied around in the media that the community of Tadcaster has been torn in two by the collapse of the bridge. I would disagree with that. Geographically the town is in two, but the community could not be more united at this time.”
Whilst David is from Tadcaster, other members of Team Rubicon have deployed from all over the UK to help, as have the other organisation they have been working in partnership with – Serve On. Pete Old, Serve On Team Leader described: “There is a great spirit of resilience and a buzz of activity in the town with volunteers and emergency services working closely together. We are delighted that we have been able to provide both expertise and manpower to help the community overcome a number of challenges, and start the New Year in a better position. Our thoughts are with those across the country who have been affected by severe weather. Both our water rescue and community resilience teams will remain available to help other communities if needed.”
The Serve On volunteers cancelled all plans over the festive season and made arrangements with employers to deploy as quickly as possible and whilst missing their families everyone in the team has shown incredible commitment to helping those in need.
Pete Dunning, a veteran from Liverpool is part of the team: “Since leaving the military I’ve been trying to find something to fill that void but I never have, until I found Serve On. Working with a bunch of people from all different walks of life, but just like a team as I did in the marines makes being a member of Serve On so easy. This is my first deployment with Serve On Community Resilience Team and I’m glad to be finally putting my training to good use.”
Whilst the floods have certainly had a massive impact on people, we must not forget our animals at this time. The RSPCA have been assisting and rescuing pets and livestock who have become trapped in the floods.
Specially trained water rescue teams from the RSPCA have been working alongside fire and rescue, police and other agencies since Boxing Day. They have helped moved sheep to higher ground, checked the welfare of horses and even saved a mole which was spotted swimming in the flood water.
A five-strong crew rescued three cats from flooded houses in York. The team waded through waist height water with an inflatable boat to save a black cat called Pawsy from a home in Walmgate and a further two cats called Fluffy and Squeakers from a house in Huntington Road.
RSPCA deputy chief inspector Ben Strangwood said: “Both of the families had been evacuated from their homes because of rising water and had reluctantly left their cats in the houses with food and drinking water.
“This has been an extremely stressful time for the families and they were very pleased to see their pets and grateful to our officers for helping.”
In total 20 RSPCA officers have been deployed over the festive period providing assistance across Yorkshire and Lancashire.
So, out of extremely trying times, communities have united through adversity. Once the clean-up teams and the emergency services have left, it will still take people months to get back on their feet, their homes and businesses repaired and refurbished. All of us at the Yorkshire Reporter send our best wishes to all affected, and would like to thank everybody who has assisted in any way be it the emergency services, companies, charities and individuals. We are sure all our readers and advertisers would agree you are all heroes!

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