Sheffield suburb ‘on the cusp’ as flurry of new openings fuel optimism
A flurry of new openings mean things are looking up for one Sheffield suburb, which is celebrating some big wins, after a turbulent few years.
Woodseats has always had plenty to recommend it, not least picturesque Graves Park which is blessed with attractions ranging from an array of sports facilities to the popular animal farm.
It was hit hard by the loss of its Tesco superstore a few years back, contributing to the demise of some longstanding local businesses, and like most communities has had its problems with vandalism and anti-social behaviour.
But there is a mood of optimism in the neighbourhood, which recently hit the headlines when a butcher won the Irish Lottery jackpot.
The Friends of Woodseats Playground, the dedicated band of volunteers behind its ongoing revival, are celebrating their own windfall after securing a £15,000 grant for further improvements.
The new-look library and medical centre have proved popular additions since opening in 2017, and the high street is enjoying something of a resurgence.
Several new cafes and restaurants have recently popped up along Chesterfield Road, especially on the upper stretch of the shopping parade nearest the library, along with a thriving micropub.
And when we visited, there was great anticipation about a number of impending arrivals, including a traditional sweet shop, wood-fired pizza parlour and micro sports bar.
Parents and grandparents soaking up the sun at Woodseats Playground, near the Chesterfield Road entrance to Graves Park, spoke fondly of the suburb’s friendly, inclusive and tight-knit community.
They told how it had long been a great place to live but recent developments meant more people could soon be waking up to its undoubted charms.
Caroline Kitchen, a 46-year-old childminder with two grown-up children, said: “I love the fact it's such a diverse community but everyone gets along. There's a really friendly bunch of people here.
“You've also got so much greenery, and it’s easy to get out into the countryside.”
Frans Schrijver, a 42-year-old teacher who was at the playground with his son Ben, aged two, said: “There are some nice cafes which have opened recently and the shops as a whole are starting to improve. Chesterfield Road seems to be getting more lively.”
Tony ‘Tosh' Whitaker, who was a steward at Woodseats Social Club for some 20 years, was in the playground with his wife Marie and their great-grandson Joey, who is one of the couple’s 13 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
"Everyone knows everyone in Woodseats. The people here are fantastic and there's such a great sense of community,” he said.
“It’s a brilliant place to live, especially for families, with the amazing park, good schools and some great shops which have been here for years.”
Tony reserves a special mention for the annual Woodseats Festival, which he says draws hundreds of people and is the highlight of the area's social calendar.
Alysia Zapasnik, who was there with her three-year-old daughter Ivy, said: “There’s a great community here. Everyone’s so friendly and it feels more like a big village than part of a city.
“Graves Park is lovely and the Friends of Graves Park play a big part in keeping it that way. You often see older members giving up their time to plant flowers there.”
David Kemp is chairman of the Friends of Woodseats Playground, which was formed two years ago to give it some much-needed TLC.
The group has already helped secure new facilities, including a climbing frame, and has big plans for a further upgrade using the £15,000 government grant it has just been awarded.
“We’d like to put in equipment for older children. Previously we had some problems with anti-social behaviour and graffiti, and we want to put in equipment that’s designed for older children to use, rather than have them damaging equipment that’s not suitable for them,” said Mr Kemp,
“We’re keen to make sure it's not just our committee deciding what happens to the playground. We want as many people as possible within the community to get involved.”
The father-of-two, who moved to Woodseats 10 years ago, said he loved having so many facilities on his doorstep, including ‘great’ parks and ‘good’ schools.
He added that it was well-connected to the city centre and the countryside, and that he had chosen to live there rather than Ecclesall because he believes homebuyers get so much more for their money in Woodseats.
As with any neighbourhood, there are things locals would change about Woodseats.
The traffic along Chesterfield Road and problems with parking are the most common complaints I hear, but there are also concerns about a recent spate of graffiti and desires for a greater variety of shops.
Shopkeepers tell me that despite recent changes, a return to Woodseats’ glory days feels a long way off.
Rachel Curry, owner of the Industrial Design Company furniture store, said: “The people here are great. Everyone's so friendly and supportive.
“I think this top end of Woodseats is changing for the better but there are still too many nail bars and charity shops down the bottom end.”
Ian Batty runs Batty’s Family Butchers, which has been a fixture on the high street for more than a century and whose long-serving worker Glyn Sterland recently scooped the £150,000 Irish Lotto jackpot.
He said: “The community's great. You get to know everyone and see people growing up. But losing Tesco and the banks had a big impact on footfall, and the parking’s terrible round here. We could really do with some parking meters.”
Nick Hedley is manager of Molly Limpet's Theatrical Emporium, which makes costumes for shows across the UK and last year supplied the dream coat sported by Strictly Come Dancing finalist Joe Suggs.
“I would say Woodseats is on the cusp. It has almost everything it needs to be another Ecclesall Road or London Road but the high street’s still lacking a bit of vibrancy,” he said.
“There are just a few ingredients missing for it to really bounce back, but we’ve had some great new places open recently and hopefully there are more to come.”