Local writer and storyteller, George Murphy interviews local characters and personalities
George Murphy: Author, journalist and community organiser, Andrew Bibby has been a consultant for cooperative and trade union organisations, a catalyst for Hebden Bridge Town Hall, and a driving force in local Woodcraft Folk and national Walkers are Welcome initiatives. He also finds time for fell running, fleet footed marathons and choral singing!
Andrew Bibby: My partner Jane and I arrived in Hebden Bridge in 1989, moving up from inner city Coventry. Hebden Bridge hadn't been the intention. Jane had a job in Leeds and we initially thought we would live there. But we saw a house advert (old pub, Pennines) in The Independent which we followed up and we found that the house being advertised was here. And we liked it. We moved. We began to be kept awake by ducks on the canal and not by fights outside the nightclub across the road in Coventry.
I grew up in a suburb of London and have gradually moved northwards, arriving here via Milton Keynes and Coventry. I've an office on the ground floor of our house. I've worked as a freelance journalist, as an author of a number of books (one a children's book published by HebWeb's own Pennine Pens) and also as a consultant for organisations in the cooperative and trade union movements. I'm now partly retired.
Some of my books (both non-fiction and crime fiction) are about the outdoors and about northern landscapes. I discovered fellrunning shortly after I moved here and am active as a member of Tod Harriers.
I've found Hebden Bridge a very rewarding place to live, and over the years have tried to contribute something back to the community. We had some great times with the Hebden Bridge Woodcraft Folk for example (and I also managed to attract lottery funding for the camping barn near Stoodley Pike). Then there's been the Walkers are Welcome towns initiative which began here and has now spread round the country, Hebden Bridge Partnership where I was secretary for some years, and from 2008-2012 my active engagement in the Hebden Bridge Town Hall project. Because the story of how we did the asset transfer from Calderdale and the subsequent multi-million pound new-build at the Town Hall may be of potential interest to others in the future, I've deposited some of the records in the archive run by Hebden Bridge Local History Society at the Birchcliffe Centre.
Now my energies seem primarily focused around the work of the Calder Valley Community Land Trust. We've a community share issue currently live, raising investment capital for our work from local people looking for a social as well as a financial return for some of their money. It feels good to be involved in an organisation that (somewhat unusually!) links both Hebden Bridge and Tod."
Q and A
Good question, but not an easy one to answer. When I was younger I certainly had some books I’d have said were favourites. Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse was one. Nowadays, it would probably be the last book I’ve read. Lockdown has allowed me to read all of Hilary Mantel’s trilogy about Thomas Cromwell. A powerful and provocative new book on land ownership, the Book of Trespass (Nick Hayes), was a recent birthday present – that’s recommended too. My authors’ co-op Gritstone Publishing has some great new books out too (plug plug).
Where did you meet Jane?
Milton Keynes. Very interesting place in the 1970s-1980s. Very romantic place, Milton Keynes, but that goes without saying.
How fast can you run?
I run at my own pace, which is rather less than it once was. Anyway at the moment I’m only just managing to get back to running after an injury. But I confess to having been competitive in races. Best time in a marathon was at the Bilbao night marathon in 2011 where I came in in 3 hrs 27. It was exciting to be running into the early hours in an interesting city.
How much TV do you watch?
We’ve got Freeview and a Firestick now, so like everyone else I watch the Gaelic folk music on BBC Alba. A real shame though that we get so many US channels and nothing from continental Europe. Actually, not a shame, a disgrace.
The town hall, that’s a great achievement, please tell us more!
Thank you. It was hard work, and lots of people deserve lots of credit. It’s good now that the Town Hall is absolutely taken for granted as just another feature of local life. (Graham Mynott the Exec Director does a fantastic job in managing it, and all sorts of good things happen there. Dave Nelson’s Piano Festival is just one of many initiatives that deserve name checks).
But of course back in the early 2000s the building (at that point the Civic Offices) was almost empty and was a very sad place. I’d been to St Pol our twin town and had enjoyed the twinning reception in their (disabled accessible) Town Hall and I thought it a real shame that Hebden Bridge didn’t have a civic building to match. The Town Hall project was born in 2008 and by the skin of our teeth we pulled it off. (My direct involvement stopped in 2012 when I stood down from the board of trustees.)
These walking group initiatives, explain your aims for them, and have they been realised?
You mean Walkers are Welcome? The idea of WaW was snaffled (with their permission!) from the Fair Trade Towns movement. It’s very much a bottom-up idea. There are a set of criteria for towns to meet to demonstrate that they are walker-friendly (such things as looking after paths, having demonstrable local support, promoting public transport and so on). Hebden Bridge became the first WaW town in 2007, and people will have probably seen the walks boards in Bridge Gate and by the station, and the WaW stickers in many of our shops. It’s a way of supporting our local economy while also celebrating our countryside. I think there are 100+ plus WaW towns now. Mytholmroyd was the fourth WaW town and Tod is in the WaW family now, too.
Starting from your house, what’s a favourite walk or run?
Maybe up to Horsehold and then on to Erringden Moor to Stoodley Pike. Or going up the Cuckoo Steps and then on to Hell Hole Rocks towards Lumb Bank.
You live on the flood plain … how’s that affected you?
Yes, we did get flooded on Boxing Day 2015 but so many other people suffered much worse. Still, we’ve definitely learned not to keep anything at all in the cellar…
You’ve been a prolific author, have you got one or two favourites amongst your titles?
Writing a book is like baking a cake, in that when you start you’re never sure quite how they’ll turn out. Generally I feel that all my books have come out OK, nicely risen and without soggy bottoms as it were. Backbone of England, I think, offers some insights into human engagement with Pennine moorland landscapes. All Our Own Work is the history of the Hebden Bridge mill which was run as a highly successful (and nationally famous) worker-run cooperative from 1870-1918. And maybe I can also mention my latest book, the crime novel Too Hot for Comfort. Ideal Xmas present, of course!
If you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Don’t take advice from anyone over sixty
You’re a francophile. How did that start?
I’m not a natural at languages but I have worked hard in recent years at improving my French and also have some Spanish and Catalan. I participate when I can in the monthly French book group run out of Manchester by Alliance Française, along with several other HB people (including Chris Ratcliffe, HebWeb’s illustrious editor). And I am committed to the town’s twinning partnership with St Pol s/ Ternoise.
What’s the good and bad of living here?
Good community life. Lots of creative things being organised. Tolerance. Long summer evenings. But also: November and December weather. January and February weather. Flooding events.
Have you always enjoyed singing?
I sang for several years with the community choir Calder Valley Voices and then switched to singing bass with the Hepton Singers with whom I enjoyed a memorable tour of Hungary a few years ago. We’ve not been able to do our usual Heptonstall concerts this year, of course, but hopefully will be back next year. The choir has just been awarded funding to commission a new work from the young Scottish composer Fergus Hall. The premiere of that shouldn’t be missed!
You’ve been a financial journalist. Do friends ever ask for advice?
I wouldn’t advise it! Mind you I could use this question as an opportunity to plug the Community Land Trust’s current community share issue, couldn’t I?! We’re keen to hear from anyone locally interested in investing £250+ directly in our community-run charitable trust.
What’s top of your bucket list?
Don’t believe in bucket lists. Make the most of what life offers.
What would be your condemned man’s meal?
Something simple would do. Maybe Valley Organics could rustle up some ingredients.
More HebWeb interviews from George Murphy
If you would like to send a message about this interview or suggest ideas for further interviews, please email George Murphy