The Diary: Vision of Porter as ‘a blue boulevard’

Tom Wild of South Yorkshire Forest by the River Porter: graffiti near Matilda St
Tom Wild of South Yorkshire Forest by the River Porter: graffiti near Matilda St
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THE ultimate goal is to create a river walkway stretching the five miles from Sheffield Train Station out to Endcliffe Park and on to Forge Dam.

This blue boulevard, says Tom Wild, would link the city centre with the outskirts of the Peak District via one continuous water corridor, creating a rich wildlife zone and attracting economic investment along the banks.

There are just two minor potential problems.

The first is that half the River Porter currently runs unloved and unnoticed through some of Sheffield’s less salubrious back streets.

The second – and this may be a larger sticking point – is the other half runs underground.

“I admit it sounds like an impossible dream,” says Tom.

“But that’s what people said in the Eighties about the Five Weirs Walk along the River Don, and that’s now one of Sheffield’s finest facilities.”

So, how exactly does one go about making an open air attraction of a waterway which is either beneath where we walk or in places we’d rather not?

“With hard work and time,” says Tom. “The Five Weirs Walk took 21 years.

“If that’s what we’re looking at, so be it. I’m only 40.”

So, here’s the plan.

A collective of 20 like-minded individuals have formed a pressure group The Porter Brook Fan Club.

Among their numbers are Tom, manager with the South Yorkshire Forest Partnership, Simon Ogden, who helped guide that River Don project to fruition, and Hellen Hornby of the city’s River Stewardship Company.

They reckon by improving and ‘daylighting’ different parts of the Porter at different times, they can slowly turn it into one coherent – and stunning – artery.

So, for example, a 50 metre stretch, which is currently underground near Matilda Street, is to be uncovered this summer as part of the building of the new University Technical College there.

It is hoped a pocket park will be part-funded by the Environmental Agency.

Future plans for development around the train station, meanwhile, will come with the express condition that developers must open up the Porter there.

“In Seoul, in South Korea, they have brought a river into the open which was under a motorway,” says Tom. “We’re not proposing anything that radical but it shows it can be done.”

Parts of the river are already in the open, of course. And work is being done to make these more accessible.

“There’s a stretch from Sharrow Vale to the General Cemetery called Frog Walk, and it’s beautiful – I walk to work that way,” says Tom. “But there’s hardly any signage so it’s almost a secret.

“We’ll be hoping to secure funding to create signs, interpretation boards, improve access and increase lighting.”

Other areas will be cleaned up.

“We want to see debris like shopping trollies out,” says Tom.

“Where the river goes past the old Ward’s Brewery near Ecclesall Road, there’s a heron that fishes there so it already attracts wildlife.”

And he insists, this is not purely an environmental project with no economic worth: “You make the riversides an area people want to go, and that attracts investment,” he says.

Now they want your help. They’re asking Sheffielders to join the group and go along to meetings (held at various cafes and pubs) to support the cause.

“It won’t be easy and it will take time,” says Simon Ogden, Sheffield City Council’s regeneration manager. “But the rewards are clear. Sheffield is built on five rivers. This is bringing another one of them back to life.”

Find The Porter Brook Fan Club on Facebook.