Valley of Lights

A few months ago I wrote about the devastation which was caused by the summer floods in the Calder Valley. As I type there are other villages and towns mopping up and counting the cost of more recent flooding in the South. It might not feel like it to them at the moment – but things will get better. It will take a while, but eventually things will start to return to normal

Things are not completely back to pre-flood status in Calderdale yet. There is still work being done, and sadly some businesses may not return. But the transformation from the mud stained mess that was left behind in June / July is amazing. The community has pulled together in the most remarkable way. Businesses and local government have put in masses of work to repair, rebuild and regenerate, bringing visitors back to the region

Last week saw an amazing celebration of this recovery. An idea put together in an early “Hebden Rising” meeting (of local business owners, citizens and artists,) – for a lantern parade, grew into “Valley of Lights”. This brought together the towns / villages of Todmorden, Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd – which were the worst affected by the floods, to tell the story of the deluge and the amazing community spirit which helped get people back on their feet.

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Kicking off with the lighting of the Christmas Lights in the Yorkshire / Lancashire border town of Todmorden, the first lantern parade wound around the streets last Saturday. Sadly the good old Pennine rain decided it wanted a look in again, and the weather was absolutely dreadful. Nonetheless, hundreds of people came to watch the people of Todmorden walk and dance with their hand made willow and wax paper lanterns behind illuminated samba and jazz bands. Eventually they gathered in the town gardens for the finale. Well oiled fire dancers whirled and spun with their torches in the rain, paraffin lamps lined the paths.

Illuminated lanterns showing Todmorden being attacked by a water dragonA moving and evocative soundtrack backed the performance of a lantern play – where the houses, factories and local landmarks were beset by the attentions of lantern clouds with flashing LED rain and lightning, and a magnificent water dragon.

2012-11-24 17.50.48Then, a beautiful shadow puppet performance depicted how people got together to help return the flooded town to normality – hard work, tea and sympathy. Teams of “food angels” cooking and delivering dinners to those whose kitchens were destroyed. Restaurants giving food for free, everyone doing their bit, donating what they could in money or furniture / clothes.

Finally, three fire drawings were ignited, burning off to reveal tableaus of the valley before, during after. All very beautiful and magnificently performed despite the howling wind and rain!

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On top of this, illuminated night markets offered local food and drink, and gave a showcase to local businesses which have made it through to the other side. The canal was taken over by brightly coloured exotic inflatables, and music and street performances went on late into the night.

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The weather was kinder on Thursday, when Valley of Lights came to Hebden Bridge. The format was the same – though the parade was longer, with more local lanterns (including one of the Packhorse bridge) and the crowds much larger as several thousand people, and TV crews came to see the valley brought back to life.

This time our fire drawing was the water dragon symbol used to advertise the festival.

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Thursday also saw the “Illuminated bike ride” of 200 cyclists riding from Todmorden, through Hebden to Mytholmroyd – to coincide with the re-opening of the Dusty Miller pub.  More markets and glowing canal creatures, and more music and magnificent creations, along with late night opening in most of the shops which have worked so hard to keep going through this difficult year.2012-11-29 19.19.21

And finally Mytholmroyd had its turn on Saturday 1st December. Christmas lights switched on by local paralympian Karen Darke, another parade, markets and canal boats – and another pub open, the Shoulder of Mutton, which had been out of action all year. I’ve never seen Mytholmroyd so full of people, with so many smiles despite the cold.

It’s been a difficult year no doubt. And I still look forward to welcoming back those places whose recovery is not yet complete. But life is back in the place, and the insurance money has given some places a refit or rethink that they might never have been able to manage without it. People are working together on creative and innovative partnerships – pop-up shops, bars and restaurants in otherwise unused spaces while their own premises are repaired. Great use has been made of our new Town Hall to provide a community hub – new events have been added to the calendar which will hopefully make a comeback next year, bringing in more visitors and an even greater vibe to our valley. We can’t help the weather, and people are campaigning hard to try and get the flood defences and infrastructure improvements which might reduce the risk of repeat occurrences – but we have had our faith in our community restored, and the future looks bright in our Valley of Lights.

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