Community focus: Darnall residents shocked after major retailer announces its departure from suburb
Residents were left shocked when news emerged that the Wilko store in Darnall was to close, a massive blow for the community which had already lost numerous major retailers.
Wilkinson’s confirmed they would be closing their Darnall site in March after rumours emerged that the high-street homeware store would not be renewing it’s lease, much to the disappointment of residents.
The announcement was yet another devastating blow for the suburb, which has seen it’s fair share of negative headlines reporting on anti-social behaviour, fly-tipping and now a diminished shopping district having already lost a number of major chains such as Morrisons and B&Q.
Clive Betts MP for Sheffield South East and Chair of Housing Communities and Local Government Select Committee, vowed to meet with the Retail Director of Wilko and said the closure would devastate the community.
Mr Betts said: “I know that the retail sector in the UK is going through turbulent times. This is not just affecting town centres and High Streets, but also district shopping centres like Darnall.
“Darnall shopping centre has gone through very difficult times. The premises that Wilko now occupy were formerly a supermarket which anchored the centre.
“The Post Office in Darnall was only saved by the active involvement of the Darnall Forum and local residents. It would be a big blow to Darnall if Wilko were to close.”
Sylvia Hamilton, 77, has lived in Darnall her whole life, marrying her husband at Darnall Road Baptist Church and going on to raise two sons in the area.
She also thinks the closure of the Wilko store will be a massive blow for the area, and thinks more needs to be done to make the area thrive.
She said: “Darnall gets a bad name undeservedly sometimes. It has a changing community, people come and go, but it is very diverse. My childhood was extremely happy, it’s a nice area.
“When my kids were little there was about a 50 per cent ethnic minority in classrooms, but now there are more ethnic groups which I think some people find difficult but I feel it brings a lot of diversity to the area.
“However, there is not enough going on, joint things for different groups. You have places such as the mosques which hold their own events, as do the churches but perhaps not as much.
“It is very diverse, and people are friendly and open to conversations but sometimes it is hard to find something for everyone and I think the key is getting different groups of people together.
“There isn’t enough for young people either, we’ve got the Woodbourn road sports facility where they can play football but perhaps there is not as much for the younger girls.
“Losing the Wilkinson store will devastate the community. It sells a lot of hardware stuff, different to the new Meadowhall store. It is a big shop in a prominent position. People are going to miss it. It just makes me think what will happen next? We feel unloved and un-cared for.”
The Darnall Football Academy is one such group, run by a team of around 20 volunteers and three paid staff who help to bring children from different backgrounds together to play the sport.
Bengali, Pakistani, Somali and Libyan children play alongside Yemeni, Indian, Kurdish and English children, and last year they celebrated a successful first season with parade from Staniforth Road to Stevenson Road.
There are also a number of community projects such as the Darnall Forum - who along with residents helped save the post office after it’s closure in 2009 – and Darnall Wellbeing, a health project for people in the suburb and neighbouring areas.
With major issues such as fly-tipping – something that has blighted the area in recent years – residents are also taking matters into their own hands by organising various litter picks, including the monthly meeting by Friends of High Hazels Park.
The park is the largest open areas in the suburb, and is looked after by both a park keeper and a team of dedicated volunteers who meet every second Tuesday to not only clear rubbish, but to weed, prune and tend to plants and flowers too.
Sylvia also volunteers with the group, she said: “If fly-tipping is not cleared up straight away then it attracts other peoples rubbish.
“It is widespread across Darnall, people will sweep up outside their houses or on their road but it can get bad where people chuck rubbish out their cars such as near the arena.
“I think not all members of the general public have a concept of rubbish, but we do have some conscientious residents who clear up. New arrivals to the area have contact with councils to educate them on rubbish. It is everyone’s general responsibility to tidy up.”
Sylvia said the community projects are valuable for Darnall, but they are struggling due to a lack of funding.
She urged residents to get involved by ringing organisations directly and appealed to businesses for sponsorship in order to help them carry out vital work.