United in the north

As soon as word spread about the Calder Valley floods, help started to arrive from all corners of the country. Shakil Malji, who heads up new charity AbdullahAid, assembled a group of 34 men to provide vital support for Hebden Bridge’s most vulnerable

Shakil Malji Shakil Malji

It’s a wet morning in Calder Valley, ten days after the devastating Boxing Day floods that wiped out power and property at over 8,000 homes and businesses in the area.

A van-full of volunteers have come up from East Ham, London, rising at 4am and giving up their Saturday to offer their help. The 34 men have come with AbdullahAid, a new Muslim charity set up by Londoner Shakil Malji and they’re greeted with literal open arms by the flood relief team at Todmorden Community College.

AbdullahAid have already done a stint in Cumbria as part of the flood relief there, and they know the drill. Leader Shakil is in organisation mode, sorting out walkie-talkies and distributing cleaning products. Some of his team will go to a car dealer who has been flooded and the others are allocated one of the homes that still need clearing, nearly two weeks after the Calder raged through their cellars and living rooms.

Vulnerable people

It’s the most vulnerable people who are still to have their homes dried out and cleaned up, like mum Jade Honer. She was in Wales for Christmas, was rushed to hospital for emergency surgery, and has only just arrived home. Her cellar is full of sewage and mud deposited by the river after it burst its banks and there’s no way she can clean it up. She’s pale and grateful, clutching a hot water bottle when Shakil and a small group arrive at her stone terrace, just off the Rochdale Road.

“We give the families a bit of release in the pressure during hard times,” says Shakil, standing in the kitchen as his colleagues pull on facemasks and start shovelling muck out of the cellar. “Mostly, we want families to know there’s no water left in the house any more, that’s the biggest thing.”

Jade’s niece, 11 year old Brooke, is in the living room. “It’s amazing that people would get up so early just to help someone,” she says. “If I was older I’d definitely get up and help people too.”

Community relations

Shakil acknowledges the healing effect organisations like his can have on community relations, at a time of unrelenting negative press about Islam.

“Being blunt, a lot of people think all Muslims hold guns and that’s not how it is. Muslims go out there and they help people and that’s what it’s all about – that’s what we’re taught in our religion; humanitarian aid.”

AbdullahAid is a personal journey, too. The organisation is named after Shakil’s baby son who was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition and who tragically died last month.

“The charity effort by all the organisations that have helped the flood relief is really impressive,” he says, “that people can make long distance journeys just to help. Obviously we could get hit by it ourselves any time. I enjoy putting smiles on people’s faces and making sure they’re comfortable.”


Last date edited: 4 March 2016