WHEN they told the new editor of the Reeth Gazette that the news would come to him they may not have imagined the awful, awe-ful events of Tuesday, July 30.

Nor might Mike Barden, an IT boffin by calling, ever have anticipated so early an introduction to the journalistic axiom that bad news is so often a good story.

The new man’s first instinct was not to carry images of the Yorkshire dales flood devastation at all – “people had lost their homes, their possessions, their animals, it was horrible, they didn’t want to be reminded of it” – before he discovered another truth of the trade.

“I was walking around the village and people were telling me what a good issue it would be next month,” he recalls – and, early learning, he determined to accentuate the positive.

The August issue was already doing the rain-drenched rounds of Swaledale and Arkengarthdale. September’s – his first – will be out any day, has risen from the usual 56 pages to 68, for the first time will have colour throughout, has a record print run of 2,000 copies.

“I’ve been persuaded that people will want to keep it, to look back in 50 years and tell their grandchildren about it all,” says Mike. “They’ll want a record.”

We’d mentioned some of this in last week’s column. Early emails setting up a chat had talked of a baptism of fire, though being thrown in at the deep end may have been more darkly appropriate.

In such circumstances you sink or swim. The Gazette, the village, the dales all determinedly re-surface.

IT’S last Friday morning, the Copper Kettle café singing gently. Up on the green, the weekly market has the usual fish and fruit stalls, some shuggy boats and, yet more improbably, a stall selling didgeridoos.

The demand for didgeridoos in Swaledale may be another story. “I’m told there are quite a lot of stories out there,” says Mike.

He was from Sussex, the family first visiting the dales in the 1980s after being bitten by All Creatures Great and Small. It was last December, however, before they discovered Reeth. “We just sat on the bench over there, had a coffee in the café here, thought how very nice it all was,” he recalls. Three months later they moved.

In information technology he’s what’s called a solutions architect, can work remotely, draws a comparison with the community magazine. “The Gazette’s a bit like a jigsaw, needs lots of pieces putting together, needs a solution, too.”

Launched in 1995, free and thus described on the cover as priceless, the monthly community magazine approaches its 300th edition. Usually it’s been a sort of parish pump room, comprehensive and compulsory, but the August edition containing little more exciting than someone pinching a quad bike.

Martin Cluderay, the outgoing editor, had a reputation for scattering references to Bruce Springsteen around its pages – “it might have been a bet,” says his successor – though The Boss’s links with Swaledale are uncertain.

Though a manifest oftcumden from the moment he speaks, Mike applied for the post – “I’d never thought about journalism, I just wanted to help the community” – and was interviewed by the committee.

“I think one or two were a bit suspicious, but I told them I didn’t intend to change much. Martin said that I needn’t go out looking for news, it would just land on my desk, and then this happens.”

His first editorial recalls that he’d been working at home at two o’clock on that terrible Tuesday afternoon – “yet another boring two-hour phone call” – when heavy rain started to rattle the windows and the rain soon turned to hailstones.

“Like many others I found myself rushing round the house, checking my windows and skylights for leaks. As it turns out we were very lucky and only our downstairs carpets were ruined. It was nothing compared to the dreadful events elsewhere.”

The first sentence of his first editorial succinctly sums the story. “Up to 113mm of rainfall in three hours. The Environment Agency said the intensity up here was a UK record.”

HE begged the treasurer for more pages and the printer for more time – “they were both great” – spent seven solid days putting it all together. “I was very nervous, then very anxious. It was my first one. My wife says I was terrible to live with.”

The front cover was to have been a bucolic shot of cattle overlooking the dale. It became a picture of the swollen Arkle beck at 5pm that day. Much of the rest of the September issue talks of what came after the storm.

Fire crews came from as far away as Malton, joined by local authority workers and hundreds of volunteers. The Swaledale mountain rescue team spent four days there, summed their efforts in about five lines. As editors do, and Oliver Twist did, Mike asked for more.

The Freemasons gave £25,000, Young Farmers arrived from all over the north to rebuild dry stone walls, a group of Muslims arrived from Batley just to roll up their sleeves. Their curries were wonderful, it’s reckoned.

All found a place in the Gazette, the further plan that the middle pages, traditionally a centre spread for the dales’ church services, would carry more dramatic photographs.

“I woke up in the middle of the night and thought Oh God” – the salutation almost appropriate – “I can’t do it,” says Mike. Hallowed, the church services remain.

He expects, probably hopes, that future issues will be a little quieter, that grazing cattle will return to the front cover, that the fire brigade can take a breather.

From Sussex to Swaledale, he also hopes to warm the editor’s chair for many years to come. “So far as I’m concerned,” says Mike, “it’s a job for life.”

WHAT was the bit about news coming to you? We’re on one table – “lovely fruit cake,” says Mike, “ nice bit of cheese with it” – Jo Lloyd and Naomi Nathan-Thomas serendipitously on the next.

With their friends Nicola Calvert and Toni Rowland-Hill, they’re spearheading a huge raffle and auction of pledges with the hope of raising £50,000 for the flood relief fund.

Already more than 50 pledges – “everything from a hand-crocheted scarf to a cottage for a week” – have been promised. The auction night is at Tennants in Leyburn, given free, on October 19. They hope to sell 650 tickets.

“To see the community response to all this has been humbling,” says Jo. “Some people have lost everything, some weren’t insured. There’s a deep need.”

“It was a terrible occasion but it’s brought us together. People who’ve been here all their lives are talking to others they’ve never met before,” says Naomi, who runs the café with her husband Adam, one of Reeth’s volunteer firefighters.

Any who may in any way be able to help can find them on Facebook, or email swalearkfloodfund@gmail.com

THE lady of this house wanders off to the Swaledale Museum, picks up a little booklet of historic accounts of the area.

Keld, 1899: “I had just time to get myself and my family upstairs when the water came down something terrific. We could not hear ourselves speak for noise caused by the rolling of great boulders past the house. We thought our last hour had come.”

Truly there is nothing new under the sun, or under the storm clouds, either.