It’s December 2015 and West Yorkshire’s beautiful Calder Valley is celebrating Christmas. Then the rain comes. By Boxing Day, whole communities are submerged in some of the worst flooding in years. More than 4,000 businesses and 2,500 homes become water-logged, causing millions of pounds worth of losses and decimating the local economy.
Fast forward 18 months and Alan Dix of Shipley-based 509 Arts is immersed in something quite different – a hugely ambitious arts response to those challenging times which has drawn from each community directly damaged by the floods.
“The media coverage was all about Hebden Bridge,” says Dix. “But there were six towns affected so we commissioned artists in each town”. This has resulted in Water Works which featured a signature response from each flood-hit local community.
Grow with The Flow was Todmorden’s project, helmed by Incredible Edible from Todmorden and the Handmade Parade from Hebden Bridge. Held recently, it was a huge parade examining water narratives. Next door neighbours, Hebden Bridge, produced the short film, Shout, featuring stories from across the community regarding their thoughts and feelings about water.
Meanwhile, Mytholmroyd, in collaboration with Steven Summers of Noisy Toys, produced the wonderfully-named Gurgle Splosher which recruited help from local schools as they created an interactive sculpture. And Sowerby Bridge launched the impressive Laughing at Water, a huge goose in honour of the gaggle of geese that wandered the streets of Sowerby Bridge, with local creative project Fire and Water providing the dancing. It was all part of the town’s Rushbearing Festival.
Elland created Landed, a collaboration with performance artists Two Destination Language, where stories were shared between old and young, and Brighouse continued this story-telling theme in their collaboration with Freedom Studios called A Happier Valley, a film featuring shared stories on how water has affected the town.
This sounds like a big enough task but Dix isn’t leaving it there. “We then have The People’s Fair. We approached Piece Hall in Halifax to host it on September 30 and October 1. All the projects above are included, plus a whole marketplace with food and artists. The Charity Shop DJ is coming. And he wants people to request songs with stories attached to them. There will be a whole programme of events for that weekend”.
It will be treat enough to visit the newly reopened Piece Hall. This awe-inspiring building started life as a Cloth Hall for the local textile industry and reopened this summer after a £19 million facelift. To say this monumental building has been granted new life is an understatement with all manner of arts projects and artisan traders setting up home.
If all this isn’t enough, how about Calderland in the evening? A musical extravaganza featuring a 200-piece choral piece with 100 adults and 100 children, orchestra, performance troupe from Calder College and huge LED screens.
“It is how the story of the valley is shaped by water,” says Dix. “How water is integral to the industries, canals and journeys. We have a foray into Dobsons Boiled Sweets in Elland who make Yorkshire Mix. The story goes that the apprentices used to drop sweets in the yard and the owner scooped them up and said, ‘let’s call it Yorkshire Mix’. This is a great metaphor for the valley which is full of quirky colourful people.”
So, there you have it. The weekend promises to be one full of fun and a wonderfully positive reaction to something terrible.
By Chris Park