Heartbreak Valley – #floods, #food and hope: #hebdenbridge, #mytholmroyd


Heartbeaking! That’s what it feels going round my town, and seeing pictures from other towns along this little Pennine Valley in West Yorkshire. Boxing Day (26 Dec) floods devastated communities along the valley. For some, it was for the third time in less than 4 years.

Near us, the River Calder, park and canal merged into one, after hours and hours of very heavy rain. Below us water spilled out from the overflowing canal at a break in the wall, creating a raging torrent down to the already flooded stonemasons yard. On Sunday we saw the result. The road along side the canal had its surface ripped up, old cobbles exposed and swept away, and a deep gulley gouged out. Impassable. Along the canal bank, the main east-west fibre optic cable lay exposed. In our town centre, scenes of devastation, but things are reportedly even worse a mile down the road in Mytholmroyd, where a man was rescued from his landrover by boat. (you can see videos from around the area on Youtube – eg, 1, 2, 3).

After the water subsides there’s thick black mud on roads, pavements and in shops. People’s houses and nearly every business in this town of independent little shops are badly hit. The Hebden Bridge Picture House flooded, the stalls ruined. When the clean up began on Sunday, our family group take hose, brushes and a snow shovel to residents affected at the other end of town – off the beaten track and not getting the attention of shops and dwellings on the main road and town centre. Pick up some antiseptic wipes being handed out by the Coop, amongst others things, outside their flooded store. Christmas holiday ended for my visiting children, shocked and upset, now working to help in clean up.

Pavements filling up with ripped out shop fittings, damaged stock. People flocking to help, the town hall becoming the coordinating hub, and place for free drinks, food and materials. Other businesses and the Trades Club also offering food and drink, some carrying them round the town. But with the electricity off in much of the town by Monday late afternoon the activity winds down til Tuesday. Today (Wednesday) the power to most is restored with about 50 properties to go.

Everywhere people flocking to help*. Some just to see. A great response from both local community and further afield. With nothing open, no place to buy food, no working cash machines, and for many no mobile phone signal on some networks, in the first couple of days the generosity of those giving food away and coming to help is great – and is still going on.

Yet as the flood waters here recede, elsewhere they are rising. Other places, not just in rural areas and little towns but in cities have flooded – Leeds, Manchester, York. As I write a new storm brings more floods further north. The news focus switches. The government takes an interest, deploys a few hundred troops to help – and indeed they did today at our Little Theatre and elsewhere in town. But too little is reported about the many thousands of people working across communities in the north of England to help those affected – volunteers, council workers, utility staff. That’s why people are now talking about hope here – the fantastic response from the community and much help offered from elsewhere too.

Initially too, little is reported about the bigger picture of climate change that lies behind these increasingly frequent extreme ‘unprecedented’ weather events – not just here in the UK but worldwide. Slowly a few start to talk about climate change, rethinking the approach to flooding. Still too few, too late. Worse, such advice has been ignored too often before as George Monbiot pointed out in a Guardian article today. The local coordinator for Friends of the Earth writes an open letter to the MP for the Calder Valley saying “Calder Valley under water: Sacrificed to indifference and political ideology

Perhaps though, at long last, some serious policy change may emerge, even if this is flying in the face of past experience. The Environment Agency says it’s time to review its approach – but it does after every flood. The PM mutters platitudes and some help is being offered but nowhere near the level of help or wide ranging rethink that is needed.

Here’s hoping – and working – for a better 2016 for all.

*Update on 2 Jan
If you would like to make a donation to help you can go here. As of midday 2 Jan 2016 this appeal by the Community Foundation for Calderdale had raised over £250,000 from a target of £1 million, with matching funds £ for £ promised by the government for up to £2 million.
A number of cafes, Saker Bakers, shops and the Cinema are open for business again. Do bring cash or cheque books as there are no cash machines operating in the town and many don’t have electronic payment methods.
More information on Facebook Calder Valley Flood Support page, on Hebweb, on Upper Calder Valley Plain Speaker  and more photos at Bluplanetphotos .

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BBC Breakfast features #foodandpoverty commision report at Thurrock lunch club

I was up before 5am this morning to head for Thurrock lunch club where BBC breakfast did a piece about the Fabian Commission report on Food and Poverty launched today. You can read all about it, download it and see our five principles and 14 point action plan here. But I thought you might like to hear what the other two interviewees and the volunteers working at the lunch club had to say, so we had a brief chat between the two slots on BBC breakfast.

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Changing the #foodsystem with #bread and #agroforestry – Andrew Whitley in the Scottish Borders

Andrew Whitley is a campaigning organic baker known for starting the Village Bakery in Melmerby in the 1970s and latterly as co-founder of the Real Bread Campaign. His book Bread Matters is credited with ‘changing the way we think about bread’ by Sheila Dillon of the BBC Food Programme and his business of the same name provides artisan bakery training. Now he’s followed his interest in bread back to its roots by farming in the Scottish borders – using agroforestry approaches, inspired by the work of Prof Martin Wolfe at Wakelyns. He is also experimenting with some 70 varieties of wheat, spelt, emmer, rye, oats and barley, including varieties that used to be grown in Scotland, some obtained from the Vavilov Institute in Russia – as he explains in the video tour of his farm.

With his wife and co-director Veronica Burke he is pioneering a new project – Scotland The Bread – which is a collaboration to re-establish a Scottish flour and bread supply that is healthy, equitable, locally controlled and sustainable. It links together plant breeders, farmers, millers, bakers, nutritionists and citizens. Their measure of success is how reliably they pass on nourishment, from the soil to the slice. To achieve that, they aim to create change in every part of the system: fair prices for local farmers growing nourishing food for people, fewer damaging food miles, more nutrition in every slice of bread and more jobs per loaf as they skill up community bakers to bring out the best in the local grains. They believe that growing better grain and baking better bread can provide part of the solution to diet-related ill-health. Everyone – older people, children, those looked after and ‘catered for’ in our hospitals, schools, prisons and care homes – will benefit.

They aim to combine research with action, so Scotland The Bread collaborates with scientists in leading institutions to find traits in heritage Scottish and Nordic wheats that will help them to produce locally resilient, nutritious grains. At the same time, Scotland The Bread is preparing a market for the new grains by building community capacity in small-to-medium scale artisan breadmaking.

In autumn 2015 the first four community projects will sow some of Scotland The Bread’s trial wheats. By late summer 2016 they will be able to harvest, thresh, clean and mill that grain and (using slow, natural fermentation) turn it into healthy, digestible bread.

Currently a project of Bread Matters, Scotland The Bread will launch as a Community Benefit Society towards the end of 2015.

For more information contact info@breadmatters.com

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#FoodSecurity writ large, civic food networks and household food shortages discussed by rural sociologists

Food Security – for whom? was the focus of a special session at the European Society of Rural Sociology conference in Aberdeen in August. The three speakers focussed on different aspects of food security. You can hear their presentations below and download the powerpoints to go with them from: http://www.esrs2015.eu/news/final-conference-proceedings

Professor Phil McMichael, from Cornell University, USA, looked at ‘The Question of Food Security (writ large)’ in his talk.

while professor Maria Fonte, from the Università di Napoli Federico IIa, Italy, took a civic food networks’ perspective in her talk:

Professor Tiina Silvasti, from University of Jyväskylä, Finland discussed ‘Food shortages at the household level’

All three took part in a discussion with participants:


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#Economics, #climate change and #farming – time to get it right: An interview with Prof Felix Fitzroy


For too long most economists have generally got climate change and farming wrong argues Felix Fitzroy, emeritus professor of economics at the University of St Andrews. In this short interview he explains how he became interested in the connections, the shortcomings of much analysis, the threats and opportunities to address the environmental impacts of farming on climate change and some policy changes needed to do so.

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Precipice and Possibility: A #Food Regime Approach to Emergent Futures of Growing and Eating by Harriet Friedmann

What are the possible futures for our food systems – desirable and undesirable? That was what Harriet Friedmann was reflecting on in the Sociologia Ruralis lecture at the 15th European Society for Rural Sociology conference in Aberdeen yesterday.

In this talk she developed some of the themes in her contribution to the Food Systems Academy.

Update 23 Sep 15: You can now download the powerpoint from her talk here.

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Company Shop: growing a business from food that otherwise would go to waste.

Just off junction 36 on the M1, in Wentworth near Barnsley, is the head office of Company Shop, a business that has prospered by selling in-date, surplus food that would otherwise go to waste. Not anyone can buy it though, mostly those working in food companies – hence the name.  It is also a business model that inspired its founder and chairman, John Marren, to set up Community Shop, a community interest company designed to help those on ‘the cusp of food poverty’ but ‘wanting to make a positive step change in their lives’. The pilot store, set up in the nearby, once thriving, mining town of Goldthrope, has attracted a lot of interest in the UK as the need for emergency food assistance has grown over the past few years. A second store opened in London in 2014.

When I met John on a platform at the York Festival of Ideas in June, I was struck by his enthusiasm, charisma and commitment, and wanted to know more about the model upon which the Community Shop idea was based – Company Shop. Later that month, we met first in the Goldthrope Community Shop, then we went to the head office of Company Shop, where he first told me about how that business developed and his thinking behind creating community shop:

We then went on a tour of the site:

And here are some photos of what I saw.

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