How community spirit shone through as Sonny's Bridge united Tadcaster

Storm Frank may have washed Tadcaster's historic bridge into the River Wharfe in December but the town's reaction has proved nothing could destroy their community spirit.

Tuesday, 16th February 2016, 10:50 am
Updated Tuesday, 16th February 2016, 11:00 am
Barbara (right) and Chrissie Wilson, a mother and daughter who live on opposite sides of the River Wharfe in Tadcaster, make their first crossing over a temporary footbridge which was built following the collapse of the main bridge after severe flooding. John Giles/PA Wire

Residents immediately pulled to together to clear the streets, rebuild businesses and even repair Tadcaster Albion’s ground in the weeks following the devastating floods.

Even when the owner of Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery refused plans for a footbridge on his land, Tadcaster united to find an alternative location for the temporary bridge.

On Tuesday, February 9, the town was plunged back into despair when popular local resident Sonny Lang died after her life-long battle with Cystic Fibrosis aged just 23.

Tadcaster Albion players comfort Sonny's mother Anna Marie Clark (s)

But, in typical Tadcaster style, residents came together to support her parents Anna and Marc with messages of condolences and a campaign launched to name the new footbridge in her memory.

So, after 45 days of frustration, it seemed fitting when hundreds of residents turned out on Friday to celebrate the official opening of ‘Sonny’s Bridge’.

The town was finally reconnected after the collapse of the 300-year-old bridge and Tadcaster had succeeded in leaving a poignant tribute to one of their favourite daughters.

Her mother, Anna-Marie Clarke, said: “I can’t believe it, we are all over the moon and I know Sonny would have been cackling away if she was here.

Liversedge captain pays tribute to Anna Marie Clark (s)

“The sun has not stopped shining since Tuesday. She was just a walking smile and it’s comforting in this dark week to know she was so well loved.

“There’s a big void now she’s gone but the amount of well wishes we’ve had have really helped us out and given us strength.”

Like the rest of Tadcaster, Nigel Adams, MP for Selby and Ainsty, has worked tirelessly to unite the town even taking the matter to the Prime Minister.

The Government has now pledged £3.3m to rebuild the historic road bridge in the heart of Tadcaster and it’s hoped it will be reopened by the beginning of 2017.

Bunting on Sonny's Bridge (s)

North Yorkshire County Council’s contractor has worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day in order to complete the work as quickly as possible.

Mr Adams said: “It’s a fantastic day for Tadcaster.

“We’ve had some dark weeks following the floods so to have hundreds of people turn out today is incredible.

“Naming it ‘Sonny’s Bridge is a great idea. It’s a tragedy for her to pass away at such a young age but it’s fitting that the bridge carries her name.”

Tadcaster Albion boss Billy Miller with Anna Marie Clark

First to cross the bridge were Barbara and Chrissie Wilson, the mother and daughter who were famously separated when the bridge collapsed on December 29.

Chrissie, whose home had flooded on Boxing Day, was walking from the east side of Tadcaster to her mother’s house on the west when the bridge collapsed.

Chrissie said: “We’re so proud to be doing this. Mum was born and grew up in Tadcaster and her family goes back 300 years in the town.

“We’re just so impressed with the way the town has pulled together through all this and delighted to have a bridge that connects the centre of the town again.”

Tadcaster Albion chairman, Matt Gore, confirmed the club would be erecting a memorial garden near the bridge’s entrance as well as a commemorative plaque in Sonny’s memory.

He said: “We urge the community of Tadcaster to refer to this as Sonny’s bridge in recognition and honour of her brilliant life.

Tadcaster Albion players comfort Sonny's mother Anna Marie Clark (s)

“Naming the bridge after Sonny means everything to us and everything to her mum Anna and dad Marc. Every time somebody crosses the bridge they will be reminded of her.

“Sonny would have loved this. Tadcaster is a special place and the community is second to none, there’s a special feeling in this town.”

Tadcaster has seen an outpouring of tributes for the former York College across the town.

Shops have been adorned with messages of support for Sonny and bunting spelling out ‘Sonny’s Bridge’ has been put up across the footbridge.

And, in a truly heartfelt moment, Tadcaster Albion’s players gave a touching tribute to their former employee before Saturday’s clash against Liversedge.

Led by captain Jimmy Beadle, members of the Albion squad gave Sonny’s mum a hug on the sidelines in front of a packed clubhouse.

Beadle had earlier presented Anna with flowers and both sets of players joined supporters in a minute’s applause in Sonny’s memory before kick-off.

The official Tadcaster Albion Facebook page posted a video of the moment, and it has now been viewed more than 170,000 times.

A message read: “I was totally choked up when the players instinctively broke away from the start of the game and followed Captain Jimmy Beadle, Josh Barrett and Jono Greening to give Sonny’s mum a hug individually.

“I was mesmerised and moved beyond words. Love this Taddy Family!”

Tadcaster went on to win the game 4-1. Turn to page 109 for a full match report.

Sonny was not only a former employee at Tadcaster Albion, working behind the bar as well as catering with her mum for seven years, she was also a devoted supporter.

Mr Gore characterised Sonny as the ‘heartbeat of the club’ and a firm favourite with the staff, fans and players alike.

The family will now celebrate Sonny’s life with her funeral on Thursday, February 25, 3pm at Bishopthorpe Crematorium before heading to Tadcaster Magnets Sports and Social Club.

Liversedge captain pays tribute to Anna Marie Clark (s)
Bunting on Sonny's Bridge (s)
Tadcaster Albion boss Billy Miller with Anna Marie Clark