When I first visited Hebden Bridge and the Calder Valley I instantly recognised this as the kind of terrain I knew from my childhood.
We moved here not long after.
Being born and brought up in Liverpool, my experience of the countryside was the beaches and valleys of North Wales. We may be short of seaside here but the local environment makes up for that.
Most important, however, are the people of the Calder Valley.
Being a kid in Liverpool in the 1960s and into the ‘70s I saw creativity all around: art, poetry, music and creative thinking (our city council had such innovative budget ideas that councillors were banned from holding public office by the Thatcher government after building thousands of council houses). Liverpool has always been artier than the Harry Enfield stereotypes.
That level of creative thinking is also woven through the culture of Hebden Bridge and the surrounding areas.
The music scene is thriving, as it has been for 30 years.
I had the privilege of booking bands at the Trades Club and seeing people turn up to see bands perform music you’ll never see on TV or hear on radio outside the specialist shows. Every July the Riverside festival brought more bands into the valley (and it always seemed to be sunny then!) and there was no real need to travel to see music. Several pubs and bars also provide music events and local musicians seem to have a level of quality equal to the acts Jools Holland would introduce on his ‘Later with...’ show.
When it came to be my turn to organise festivals in Calder Holmes Park we went for a ‘World on your Doorstep’ theme because within 15 to 20 miles of here you can find communities with links all over the world – and so we invited their musicians to come and play.
Seeing hundreds of people dancing to qawwali music performed by a band from Bradford who said they’d never performed for a largely white audience before showed the willingness of local people to experience the world around them – something the rest of the country could learn from.
When it went wrong and a storm destroyed the main stage the night before the festival was due to start, people rallied around and a new stage was built, sound and stage equipment donated and the people of this area made the festival happen anyway. I love the can-do spirit.
As well as the Trades Club we have the folk roots weekend, the Blues Festival, Arts Festival and various other events throughout the year.
We live in a world which constantly seems at war – literally – with itself.
It is a world in which the rich believe selfishness and greed is the way forward.
They mess up the economy and get away with it.
Worse, their newspapers and governments blame and punish the poorer members of society for the damage this selfishness and greed has caused.
Hebden Bridge stands out as different. The core of the local culture is co-operative, cares about the environment and cares about other people.
Clearly there are those pushing it forward – Transition Towns, Treesponsibility, various political campaigns against cuts and against racism exist here.
But most people you talk to on the streets are largely with them in values. Occasionally you meet someone who expresses racist or other unpleasant views, but they are few and far between.
The natural instinct is to help: last year’s floods were a great example of that.
As happened to others, we had to leave our house for three months while it dried out.
While the floods were rushing through houses, neighbours arrived in numbers to help build a dam behind the house; the community centre on Dodnaze provided food and sandwiches; Incredible Edible turned up from Todmorden with hot food and the next day a group of women arrived with mops and cleaning equipment donated by local businesses. I wouldn’t want to be flooded anywhere else!
People here care.
The uproar at Calder High School about Miss Rusty and being pushed to academy status showed how fiercely people believe in education, certainly more than Mr Gove and the educational institutions themselves appear to show.
Elsewhere young people are seen as a problem, primarily. Of course there is a shortage of angels – and many young people would want to avoid being put into that category.
However, the skate park, Fair for Youth and Park Life cafe show that here youth and ‘mature’ work together well – another example for the rest of the world.
I like it.
The valley looks great, the culture is sound, the arts and music are unbeatable for a place this size, the spirit of people is immense.