We’re very grateful to the people of Sheffield,” said Ann Le Sage, looking back on the success of the group she chairs, the Friends of the Porter Valley.
“They have helped to raise a tremendous amount of money for what is really a relatively small-ish environmental group.”
And the city has truly rallied to the society’s cause.
Set up more than 20 years ago to ‘preserve and enhance the natural and historical characteristics of the Porter Valley for public benefit’, the group raises money for conservation and renovation work, liaises with the council and the public about plans for the area, and runs a regular programme of walks and talks about the valley, which holds a Grade II listing from English Heritage.
There are now around 640 members of the group, which works on projects large and small.
One of its biggest successes to date was playing a key role in the restoration of the Shepherd Wheel, an 18th century, water-powered grinding workshop in Whiteley Woods, which was completed in 2012.
The wheel is now up and running every weekend, and now the current fundraising drive is to de-silt and improve Forge Dam in Fulwood.
This scheme will need around £360,000, and so far £90,000 has been collected in just three years.
One of the group’s major fundraising events is the annual duck race in Endcliffe Park, where 2,500 plastic ducks make a dash for the finish line along the Porter Brook.
The spectacle traditionally draws a crowd. In 2015, over £10,000 was raised, and the Friends group hopes the proceeds from this year’s race, held on Easter Monday, will take the total to £100,000, something of a milestone.
Autumn and Christmas fairs also help to bring in money, and tens of thousands of pounds has come from ‘section 106’ agreements - where housing developers offer funds for community use as part of planning conditions.
Ann said potential donors are in the wings, but lottery money has not yet been applied for.
“You can’t go to them with half a story,” she said.
“You need to prove that you have a sustainable solution and the technical details have to be there.”
There were also some changes at Monday’s duck race compared to previous years - more stalls were selling gifts and treats, and for the first time a climbing tower was set up for visitors to scale.
The race was adjusted slightly, too.
“We set up the finishing line about 50 yards down from the previous ones – it gives a chance for people to be on the bank to see the ducks run further and catch them more easily,” she explained.
“It’s always been a fast-moving, frenetic situation.”
Ann said specialists had carefully tested the silt in Forge Dam, and found it needed ‘quite a complicated process’ to remove.
“There are hydrocarbons in it - residue from engineering and remnants of Sheffield’s industrial history,” she said.
“Remember, when you walk through the Porter Valley, you’re looking at water power and metal workshops, which left their mark there. Three hundred years or so later we’ve got to contend with this. We’ve got to get this right.
“We can’t ask the boys in their scout uniforms come in with a digger, it’s got to be disposed of properly.
“A lot of questions need to be resolved - how do we take the silt out? Where do we take it to?
“It’s not an easy project. People tend to assume it must be simple.”
But the landscape work already carried out at Forge Dam has made a big difference, she added.
“Most people who visit will be able to see what we’ve done. We’ve created gardens with flowers such as daffodils, which are out at the moment. Generally it’s a lot lighter and more open.
“We’ve certainly improved the surface of the lawn opposite the cafe - that’s a nice picnic area.
“Individual families have put new benches in for loved ones and trees are being planted in other places. It looks very much better than it did four years ago.”
As well as carrying on with the charitable work, in 2016 the Friends hope to add more information signs to direct people to the dams and former industrial sites, along with extra leaflets to allow visitors to explore in more detail. The conservation activities will continue, with Friends volunteering as guides at the Shepherd Wheel site.
“Our walks do very well,” said Ann. “The green valleys in the west of the city are absolutely beautiful.”
n Visit www.fopv.org.uk for more information.