Just giving – Just loads!

sowerby bridge west yorkshire flooded

By Steve Duncan – Community Foundation For Calderdale

The Calder Valley Flood Appeal – Time to Reflect Boxing Day

As a new year approached and I was tucking into some tasty Boxing Day fayre with my wife Alex and parents in Thirsk, the BBC News came on showing unbelievable scenes of flooding in Sowerby Bridge, Mytholmroyd and in numerous places across Calderdale. The images that most struck me showed floating cars in front of the new Sowerby Bridge swimming pool; this was my home town under water. It was shocking and unreal!

I turned to Alex and my parents and told them that this would be the end of the Christmas holiday for me. I needed to get to the office and co-ordinate our response to the unfolding disaster.

My colleague at the Community Foundation for Calderdale, Emma Woods-Bolger, also had her Boxing day festivities rudely interrupted – and she quickly uploaded an appeal page onto our website (www.cffc.co.uk) and started posting about the floods and our appeal across our social media accounts.

Counting the Cost

We drove back from Thirsk early on Sunday 27 December and I went into a very quiet office to start putting a plan into place…

I sent out an SOS to the Foundation team – asking members if they would sacrifice their holiday to start giving out grants to the householders affected by the floods. Over the course of the next few days the team started to come together – although some couldn’t because they themselves had no power or were helping others in places like Hebden Bridge.

We had practical issues to overcome… How much should we offer as an emergency grant? Not an easy question to answer when you’re fundraising and there is no way near enough in the pot. We took a leap of faith and agreed £200 per household.

If we were to give grants to people we would need a serious number of cheque books, and we only had 2 at our disposal.We put in an order for more but these would take a minimum of 10 days and we could only order one per day!

To avoid any delays we took the decision to give out cash to approximately 500 households – equating to a total of £95,000! This led to one of the most surreal scenes I have witnessed at the Foundation and something which will stay with me for a long time. The major concern with handling so much cash was, of course, the security of it – and the possibility of being robbed. So myself and a trustee collected it from the bank – a car parked outside with the motor running, waiting to transport us. I was meanwhile locked in a back room watching the cash being counted. We got the cash back to the office and then witnessed the bizarre spectacle of a line of Foundation trustees and volunteers stuffing brown envelopes with £200 in each. These envelopes were boxed up into areas (Todmorden, Hebden Bridge, Mytholmroyd etc) and under a police escort the money wended its way up the Calder Valley to Town Halls and other delivery points. The whole experience was quite overwhelming, and I have to say a huge thanks to the Police who looked after us and the money.

Huge Outpouring of Generosity

By the second week of January thoughts of launching the Foundation’s 25th Anniversary year were put on the back-burner and our attention was on making further key decisions…

Can we and should we support businesses?

Can we and should we give more financial support to displaced families?

Can we and should we support people who have lost their jobs as a result of the floods?

We answered yes to all these questions – and we were able to do so because of the incredible volume of donations we were receiving – £40,000 per day at the height of the Appeal.

Where has the money come from?

It’s come from local people and people from around the world, it’s come from small independent businesses based here in Calderdale and large national companies, it’s come from charities in the region and across the country, and
it’s come from an amazing variety of events held to sup- port those affected. The humour shown across the valley in the face of the adversity of the floods really surfaced in the names for some of these events – from the Todmorden gig “Floody Marvellous” to the” Wring out the Clowns” Come- dy Gala organised by Rob Riley. This latter did us proud by securing top-flight comedians including Rory Bremner and Sarah Millican.

The range and scope of events was overwhelming – from the first Flood Concert at the Victoria Theatre, organised in 10 days by Piers Metric, to the unforgettable evening with the cast of the BBC’s award winning and much-loved drama, Happy Valley. The generosity of performers and organisers has left us feeling humbled, and each key event has topped up the Appeal Fund by at least £30,000 a time! And there is more still to come – I know of three significant events being planned for Summer and Autumn…

Special thanks to Calderdale Council and the staff at the Victoria Theatre for supporting all Flood events at no cost –thank you!

Behind the staggering £2.4m raised there are so many individual stories to be told. Before even mentioning the financial contributions, it is worth saying something about the numerous phone calls we received from people across the country wishing to donate items of furniture. I recall speaking to one elderly lady living in Ipswich who was about to move out of her house into an old folks home and she was keen for me to come and collect all of her furniture to support people in Calderdale who had lost everything. I had to decline her offer for practical reasons but these conversations made me feel very humbled and on some occasions left me in tears.

The largest financial donation from outside of Calderdale came from Daily Mail whose readers donated a total of £240,000, and Morrisons Supermarket and customers who contributed £96,000. Churches, Societies, Town Councils, Post Offices, Schools, Freemasons, Roundtable, Inner Wheel and Rotary Clubs also contributed considerable sums. Local Rotary Clubs such as Hebden Bridge also got stuck in with a range of activities including helping the Foundation with handing out emergency grants.

A few creative initiatives helped keep the money pouring in the tremendous Flood Relief Shop situated in the Woolshops raised a substantial amount of money as did Harveys of Halifax who creatively provided £5,000 of matched funding to incentivise their customers’ giving. And sheer hard work from volunteers sustained the contributions. Volunteers like Kirsty McGregor, who is now channelling her efforts into the business Crowdfunding scheme Calderdale Rising, and who also worked tirelessly to ensure collection buckets were quickly available in supermarkets and banks, and who managed to support 103 businesses and gain them considerable media coverage – including on the BBC’s One Show.

Current supporters of the Foundation have donated almost £200,000 – for which we are very grateful and which gave the Appeal a lot of momentum. The Foundation also received almost £300,000 from local flooded businesses and charities for us to try and increase through the Government’s matched
funding scheme.

This has simply been the most rewarding and humbling experience of my life talking with and meeting so many resilient, positive, generous and genuine people. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with, and meeting a number of people and agencies, none more so than the ever dependable Councillor Rob Holden who is always there when you need him! I also particularly appreciated the support from Calderdale Council who involved the Foundation at key meetings. This helped us considerably with formulating a strategy for the distribution of grant aid.

Calderdale is blessed to have a successful Community Foundation, ready and willing to lead on Flood Appeals as well as the important daily work we do supporting people in crisis and priority need in Calderdale.

I am privileged to be CEO and have such an incredibly diligent and brilliant Foundation team working with me and for the people of Calderdale. Thank you Foundation team, trustees and volunteers and thank you to each and every person or organisation that has made the Boxing Day Appeal such a fantastic success!