Southey - a charitable community that gives whatever it can

Dean Platts and Janet Bagshaw outside Southey Library
Dean Platts and Janet Bagshaw outside Southey Library
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Not many communities can raise more than £1 million to transform their local park.

But if the people who helped drive that campaign and the many others that take place in the area, Southey is no ordinary community.

Sitting on one of Sheffield’s seven hills and bathed in sunshine, the neighbourhood boasted views to savour as voters went to the polls to elect a new city councillor today.

The flow in and out of Southey Library, acting as a polling station for the day, was steady. But democracy took a back stage to social calls for many, as residents stopped to chat with friends and neighbours in the street.

Almost all know the name Janet Bagshaw, who is a key figure in Southey. Working with other community-minded volunteers, she helped set up Southey Community Forum, took over the library when the council withdrew its funding, and took charge of raising the £1.2 million needed to transform Cookson Park.

The 75-year-old has lived in Southey her whole life, and has no hesitation when asked what she thinks of the area.

Southey Green Road

Southey Green Road

“I love it,” she said – and you’d be a fool to doubt her.

Through the community forum, based at the library, Janet and her fellow volunteers have brought education, arts and crafts and groups such as knit and natter to Southey.

And they thought little of taking on the library itself when the council stepped away in September 2015.

“The library is still going strong,” she said. “Uptake has increase and we’ve got more books in.

Joey Garcia with Ethan and Joe Saberton on the skatepark at Cookson Park

Joey Garcia with Ethan and Joe Saberton on the skatepark at Cookson Park

“We want to put some dancing in for the kids, and painting for beginners.

“It’s always full in there.”

The library now acts as a community hub – something Janet believes is helped by the familiar faces of Southey people volunteering behind the counter.

“It’s a good place,” said Janet. “People come in and just have a coffee.

Tesco community champions Lynne Kelly and Lynn Powers

Tesco community champions Lynne Kelly and Lynn Powers

“If you miss your bus, you can come in – we don’t mind.”

The transformation of Cookson Park at a time when public money for open space was sparse is another feather in Southey’s cap.

Janet remembers a time when it was a ‘lovely’ ravine, but in the 1960s it was used as a dumping ground for building waste.

The community decided something had to be done, and managed to raise the huge sum needed to transform the space. It now boasts a skatepark, playground and one of Sheffield’s two speedway tracks.

“Everything in the part was what people had asked for,” said Janet. “The skatepark was designed by the kids.”

The speedway track – which cost £59,000 and opened in 2006 – is a huge success story. The Wosskow Brown/Sheffield Stars team based there has produced international riders, and in captain Vicky Brown has a world champion.

Wosskow Brown/Sheffield Stars riders Niamh Morton, Sophie Middleton and Vicky Brown

Wosskow Brown/Sheffield Stars riders Niamh Morton, Sophie Middleton and Vicky Brown

Southey is not the most affluent community. But the locals are keen to support their sporting stars. They raised £1,000 to send some youngsters to Australia for qualifiers.

“We came seventh in the world on bikes that cost £195 from Wilko’s,” said Janet.

“It’s only a little park but it’s worth a million pounds.”

While it may be one of Sheffield’s greener suburbs, Southey is not as affluent as areas such as Nether Edge and Totley. There are several local foodbanks, all of which are well used.

But there are also plenty of people prepared to lend a hand and support others.

Lynne Kelly and Lynn Powers are the community champions at Tesco Metro on Harries Road.

Their job is to spend the week out of the shop with schools, care homes, churches and community groups.

From donating breakfast ingredients to dressing up as Santa Claus at Christmas, they try to help in as many ways as they can.

They have raised money for big organisations such as The Children’s Hospital Charity, and supported local causes such as Hope for Isabella, which is helping a young girl with brain damage.

“She had a wheelchair but it’s had to go back, so we are trying to raise funds,” said Lynn. “I went round the shops and asked for donations to start a raffle next week - and they have all given.”

The women clearly love their jobs and the support they can offer to the Southey community – many of whom are regulars in Tesco.

“People are really friendly and like that connection,” said Lynn.

“A lot of people haven’t got much money but they are so giving.”

And Lynne added: “It brings people closer, to know that help is available.”

The result of today's by-election should be announced tomorrow. Seven candidates were vying for the council seat, from the Lib Dems, Labour, the Greens, the Women’s Equality Party, Ukip, the Conservatives and The Yorkshire Party.

Whoever wins will replace Leigh Bramall, the former deputy leader who stepped down to focus on his family life.

Now working for marketing agency Counter Context, Leigh said the overwhelming feeling he got from his ward was an ‘incredibly strong sense of community’.

“Sometimes it has a bad reputation with other parts of the city,” he said.

“But they are really friendly, honest people.

“They will tell you what they genuinely think about things. But if you can demonstrate that you are trying to help and you have an understanding of an issue - and potentially some solutions - they are extremely forgiving people.”

Some sage advice for the new Southey councillor, perhaps.

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Cookson Park

Cookson Park