Well, today we started our carefully planned attempts to start talking to members of the communities on the north of the River Aire in Shipley/Baildon. The best laid plans of mice and men are often frustrated by fate, of course — so there’s a certain irony in the fact that the day we’d chosen to start talking about “multi-story water” also happened to be the day when the Environment Agency ended up issuing 21 separate flood warnings across the country! OK, they were mostly in the south, but even here in the north it threw it down for much of the day… leaving our team of intrepid outreach workers traipsing around in the wet and periodically returning to the HALE bus (hired for the day) to try and warm up a bit. Then the generator on the bus broke down, and we were really stuffed!
Inclement conditions no doubt accounted for why many people didn’t open their doors when they were knocked on. No doubt, also, a lot of other people were just out at work and were better called on in the evening (by which time we were sodden!). But what was actually really encouraging from my point of view was that so many of the people who did open their doors — to what were basically cold callers (and wet callers!) — seemed happy to talk and were really responsive to the project. First impressions: people in this area of really proud of where they live, love the river and the green space around it, and aren’t in any hurry to leave. Indeed, I met several people who have lived in the Higher Coach Road area since their estate was constructed in the 1950s, and are still happy here today! And these people (in their late 80s and early 90s now) have vivid memories of past events in the area that are really worth hearing… How the council raised the level of the land, from the flood plain, by pile driving the land to make it fit to build on. How the river itself, when it’s flooded in 1947, or 2000, or 2008 (?) has come right up to the lip of these raised areas… (On Aire Close, which is actually right on the river, I heard about how the floods of 2000 produced four feet of flood water in the living room!) There were also some amazing stories of people’s other river experiences: there was one man who, during World War II, was among the engineers who actually built the bridge over the River Kwai (and no, he wasn’t making this up – he ended up in a Japanese PoW camp, an experience which he does *not* talk about). So, in short, even on a wet and miserable day like this, it became clear to us there’s a gold mine of stories to be dug up here… I wonder what’ll be next!