Focus on Greenhill: Community’s spirit pays real dividends

Rob Pearce
Rob Pearce
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W hen cash-strap-ped Sheffield Council said with a heavy heart it could no longer run Greenhill library, the community stepped in.

The prospect of it falling by the wayside wasn’t an option. After gathering a small team they posted letters through hundreds of doors asking for help to keep the library going.

Patrick Coghlan

Patrick Coghlan

Waiting with bated breath, 69-year-old Patrick Coghlan and his small group of initial volunteers were stunned after dozens upon dozens got in touch saying they wanted to help.

The community was asked to step up and they answered the call.

It is this community spirit that makes Greenhill the place it is – from the wide selection of independent shops battling against the big chains or people going out of their way to improve the area’s profile.

Once a sleepy Derbyshire settlement which joined Sheffield in 1934, today the area is a bustling suburb with a mix of families, young professionals and people who have spent decades here.

People coming out to help say there are a lot of folk who value the library and see this as a way of contributing to the community

Folk in Greenhill – or ‘Gren-ill’ to some locals – aren’t shy of being a bit quirky either. Kevin Palmer hit the headlines when he erected a huge Christmas tree on Bocking Lane roundabout to give his wife a festive surprise.

Patrick Coghlan was one of the initial volunteers who took on the reins to restore Greenhill library to its former glory.

A retired vicar, who worked in Brazil for 14 years, he has now been chairman for three years.

“I couldn’t believe the response we got – I was amazed,” Patrick said.

Martin Taylor

Martin Taylor

“I’d expected 40 or 50 at most but we had around 150 get in touch and we whittled it down to around a 100 or so after interviews in groups of 10.

“People coming out to help say there are a lot of folk who value the library and see this as a way of contributing to the community.”

And the volunteering spirit goes right down to the man who cuts the lawn for free – despite doing the same job for a living.

As Patrick proudly shows off the library improvements, he explains the building was once a tired place in need of colour and creativity.

Briony Rees and Ros Rees

Briony Rees and Ros Rees

But now it is bright, full of drawings and pictures from Greenhill Primary School across the road with stacks of books lining the pristine shelves.

The library also hosts a raft of activities, clubs and societies with around 5,500 people a month passing through the doors.

“I’d like to say I don’t lay any blame at the previous administration,” Patrick said. “It was hard. There were only two people on at a time and they were severely stretched.

“I’m a newcomer to Greenhill. I came here when I retired and I found it so friendly from the day we moved in. I just think the area is wonderful. So many people are involved in so many things.

“I found it interesting what one former city councillor said to me. Bradway had its village hall, Lowedges had its community centre but Greenhill had its library. For me that’s what we are, a community centre and a village hall, a central spot for people – not just a place where we lend books.

“We hope to carry on with our wonderful volunteers making the library the best it can be.”

Benjamin Bates

Benjamin Bates

Across the roundabout from the library is Rob Pearce who runs Rob’s Fish & Chips on Bocking Lane.

He knows more than most about the classic British dish.

The 58-year-old has been in the game for half a century and started peeling spuds in a shed aged seven, helping out the family business.

He’s worked all over Sheffield over the years and set up on Bocking Lane roundabout five years ago.

“It’s a really friendly area. You see the same faces and know people by first names. I suppose it comes with working in a chippy but it’s refreshing all the same. Business is good – people round here have been very good to me.

“It shocked me a bit actually when I first moved on here just how polite the kids were. I suppose it’s bad being that gobsmacked but it’s nice to hear good manners.

“It’s good the library is doing well – they put on all sorts for the kids and all the young ones play football on the lawn in front of the building.”

One customer through the doors is Benjamin Bates. Despite living most of his life in Fort Lauderdale, USA, he moved over to marry a ‘Sheffield lass’.

But the 53-year-old said he doesn’t want to swap Greenhill for the sunshine state anytime soon.

“I think this place is great,” he said. “We’re always around here. People are so friendly and you’ve got everything you need here – a real community.”

Further along the shops is Martin Taylor who has worked at Steven’s butchers for 11 years. The 57-year-old, on shift with co-worker Gail Hutton, said the area is on the up.

“I think it’s a great place,” he said. “I’ve noticed there’s been a reduction in kids messing about, you know, anti-social behaviour and stuff you could do without.

“Now people are out nearly every day picking up litter and taking real pride in where they live – it’s immaculate. I think the library being run voluntarily really started something.”

Greenhill has a row of thriving independent stores trying to entice people to shop local.

Martin added: “I think people have more confidence in places like this. We’re doing well and people like the fact you buy what you want but you have that personal touch as well with people knowing who you are and you knowing them. You don’t get that in a supermarket.”

Mum Briony Rees, 38, along with grandmother Ros Rees, 70, stop to chat on their way down Greenhill Main Road just before the bell goes for school.

“I love it here, I’d rather extend than move anywhere else,” Briony said.

“We often refer to Greenhill as ‘the village.’ It has that feel about it with the shops and you have everything you need. There’s loads on for the kids to do.

“You know most of the people who live here and everyone is so friendly – it’s a good community.”

Martin Taylor and Gail Hatton

Martin Taylor and Gail Hatton

Greenhill Library

Greenhill Library