Written by Shirley Kumar
(Yes we are going for the cheesiest headline prize!)
Boxing Day 2015: Some 2,720 households and 1,250 businesses watched helplessly as up to 6ft of water engulfed their homes and premises.
Cold, wet and in shock, the last thing the valley folk thought they needed was comfort food. But with chefs bringing curry to the little old lady serving tea and biscuits from a wicker basket – clearly others thought differently. Food was to become a symbol of unity.
From home-made pie, sausage and mash to a banquet of Indian and Pakistani food, the valley was out to eat well despite many not having any gas or electricity. “Suddenly we had 400+ people coming into the Town Hall [the make-shift crisis hub], says Amy Harbour, former director of Hebden Bridge Town Hall. “People had lost everything.
Amy, like many others, had received a flood warning text from the Environment Agency on Christmas Eve. But, like others, she didn’t think much of it. They had become a regular occurrence.
But persistent rain on Christmas Day resulted in an eerily Boxing Day rude awakening; the sound of the flood sirens. The water roared furiously down the hills, smashing anything in its way.
As the extent of the disaster unfolded, clean-up volunteers came face to face with flood victims in the numerous hubs that had sprung up across the valley.
International crisis management charity Khasla Aid had already mobilised. Travelling from Slough, a volunteer army arrived with cleaning materials, pizza and Punjabi food. “Khasla Aid handed us a lifeline,” says Harbour. “Ravi Singh (CEO) knew what to do even before we knew we needed it.”
Experts in feeding hundreds at a time, Khasla Aid set to work. The vegetarian Punjabi staple of channa puri (chickpeas and fried bread) subji (vegetables), rice and breads, were individually packaged. The Town Hall café, along with a makeshift tent in Mytholmroyd, were turned into efficient production lines, churning out hot meals. The meals were made fresh every morning by Sikh volunteers in nearby Gudwarahs (Sikh Temples).
“It wasn’t just food, Khasla Aid were giving us,” says Harbour. “There was love in the cooking of these meals. In the middle of this crisis, they were nourishing us.”
“These floods have changed people,” says Singh. “It’s been inspiring to see how people of all backgrounds have come together. There has been no twiddling of thumbs waiting for the government to help. They rallied around. They got stuck in.”
Meanwhile, another Bradford-based charity was on duty to feed hundreds ofpeople affected in Mytholmroyd, Ellesborough retirement home, Elland, Sowerby Bridge and Todmorden.
Global Promise, a Bradford-based charity, set-up in response to the 2004 Tsunami that affected Asia and Japan,served a whopping 2,500 meals. They cooked and delivered British food – sandwiches, quiches, pies – from the Pavilion Café in Bradford and Indian food – pakoras and paneer tika (Indian soft cheese) from The Deeva restaurant near Leeds.
Zulfi Hussain, founder of Global Promise says: “This disaster was so close to home. We had to help. When I first visited Iwas shocked by the devastation, people lining the streets… their homes and businesses…gone.
“They may not have been thinking about food but it’s what they needed.”
The Birmingham-based United Sikhs charity brought supplies but had nowhere to cook. Hussain opened up kitchens in the Pavilion Café and Deeva restaurant. Other organisations such as Muslim charity Helping Hands brought not only manpower but 100s of vegetable Biriyanis donated from Sukhar Cuisine Catering Company in Dewsbury, despite the Christmas period being the caterer’s busiest time.
Abdul Passwala, spokesman for Batley-based Helping Hands charity, says: “This was happening in our back yard. We have a duty to help our neighbours. “One day a man driving past, stopped his car and stormed over to me. I was a bit worried but then he hugged me and aid thank you.”
Individuals from across Calderdale and beyond also contributed significantly.
One resident, Alison Leonard, along with her daughter, donned their wellies and took trays of Christmas cake to all those cleaning out Mytholmroyd’s Community Centre. “Some people’s hands were so filthy they had to be fed,”
“Others just shook their heads grimly: they couldn’t think of anything but the horrible job they’d come to do.”
I Spice, a catering van, run by Joanna Christina, served free food in Mytholmroyd. Christina was out jogging Boxing Day morning when she noticed the water levels were really high. It was still dark. She ran home and began tweeting like mad to warn people. Then the sirens went off. “I took my catering van to the emergency services in Mytholmroyd and cooked what I could and served tea and coffee,” says Christina.
“On the first day, people came to the van in absolute shock. They needed something to eat. I cooked with whatever ingredients people brought me. By day three, people were really grieving.
“What amazed me were the families that turned up from other parts of the country bringing food. This was mostly home-cooked Indian/Pakistani food.”
Marco’s Café in Hebden Bridge, which thankfully, did not flood, opened its doors and cooked mountains of pasta until they ran out. The following day, the Soup Dragon took over and served soup and nourishing food in military fashion.
The Soup Dragon, an initiative of Hebden Bridge Transition Town Health group, still uses the café every Monday. Meanwhile, on the other side of town, The Trades Club delivered meals – despite not having any electricity. Mari Greenfield says: “DoddNaze Centre kindly allowed us to use their kitchen. We took ingredients from the Trades Club cooked them and sent them back. We had loads of volunteers, including a 12 year-old girl, Louisa who came to help and worked tirelessly.
Living on the banks of the canal, Todmorden flood warden Michaela Look Ford watched helplessly as her own house filled with water: the second time since 2012. She simply turned and walked away. Others needed her help more. With
the support from friends and volunteers, Ford turned Todmorden Town Hall into a makeshift flood hub.
The team cooked and delivered food direct to those affected by the floods – including the elderly. “We covered so many diets it was crazy,” says Ford. “We devised a menu in the end because we had that much food donated. Breakfast was a fry-up and probably one of the 3,000 donated crumpets we had to offload. Lunch and dinners were vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, halal or plain comfort food such as chicken and mushroom pie, barley broth or Pakistani food from Todmorden Mosque and even fish and chips from Tod Chippy.
“Todmorden Councillor Margaret Holmstead also washed my pots,” says Ford. Councillor Christine Davenport provided sandwiches and hot food to volunteers and night workers either cleaning, patrolling, fixing power services or the taxi drivers who were without electricity.
“The reason I chose evenings is because food was available at various points in the day but not at night. My grandson and I put sandwiches in separate bags and handed then out between Todmorden and Mytholmroyd, along with bags of hot chips, tomato soup, mince pies and water.”
Meanwhile, across the valley, lest not forget the lovely lady with a wicker basket tirelessly delivering biscuits,tea and coffee. Or the selflessness of the likes of The Thai Place in Todmorden, who, despite being flooded themselves, threw open their doors and offered tempting Thai food. As food united communities across the valley, a special interfaith service to say thank you was held at St James Church in Hebden Bridge earlier in January 2016. It was attended by Muslim, Christian and Sikh charities along with