COMMUNITY FOCUS: Firth Park residents working together to banish it's misunderstood identity
Firth Park is an area often misunderstood by outsiders, but members of the tight-knit community have been working hard to change this view.
The residents make no qualms that the area has faced it's fair share of bad publicity, but they're doing everything they can to spread positivity within the community. The bustling Sheffield suburb is located north of the city centre and takes it's name from it's luscious 36-acre park which is abundant with facilities and boasts spectacular views across the city centre and surrounding areas. The park was originally a gift from steel magnate Mark Firth, and was opened in a lavish ceremony in August 1875 by the future King Edward VII, then the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra.However, after the maintenance and upkeep was scaled back during the 1980's the park deteriorated and in 2000 a group was formed called Friends of Firth Park to regenerate the area.And volunteering is something that is at the heart of the community. Sarah Hardy, 45, moved to the area with her parents when she was four, and despite no longer living in the neighbourhood still calls it 'home.' She spends most days in the area, visiting family, and volunteering with Friends of Firth Park to organise litter picking events in a bid to banish rubbish from the streets."I wanted to do something positive for the community, and to give something back," she said. "Like everywhere we've had cuts but we need to shout about the positive things we do. The area isn't without it's challenges. It's been neglected in the past, but people are working together to sort it out.""It's nowhere near as bad as people think it is. There's a lot happening, and it's full of really lovely people."The group regularly meet with local councillors, who paid for their equipment, to work on ways they can improve the area and invite locals to get involved."It's about education with litter," she added."We have meetings with local councillors, litter can have an impact on mental health. It gets people down, every meeting we have it's all about litter, litter, litter. People are bothered about it."The group of around 10 people, meet on the first Tuesday of every month to tackle the issue, and are organising a big litter pick on June 23 to spread the word.Barbara Dixon, 66, is also a volunteer, and has lived in the area for over 35 years. She said: "I feel I should get involved because I hate it. I don't want to pick up other people's rubbish, but I feel like I have to."I'm also involved with the health walks, which helps people stay active. They're great. We meet every Monday, there's one fast walk and one slow so it's great for everyone."Over the years, she has seen Firth Park change and grow, she said: "A lot of people don't think it's a safe area and it's normally people that don't live here, or won't stop on their way through."It annoys me that people criticise it. A lot would say it's gone down hill. It's changed but it's getting better. "The litter gets me down, but it mustn't be blamed on sole groups like kids or immigrants like people do. Everyone contributes.""We are now a multicultural community, and we have the best preserved shopping area. We don't have a large supermarket, but we have a lot of independent traders and could encourage more."Henry's Cafe is one such independent trader, which offers wholesome, homemade food and 'is a hub for the community.'"You get people from all walks of life, people with no other social contact go there for a chat. It's rare I don't see someone I know," Barbara said. The cafe has been situated at Firth Park's Sure Start Centre for thirteen years, and is popular with users of the centre or locals looking for a bite to eat. Julie Hopley, 57, works at Henry's and has lived on Firth Park Road for over 32 years. She says she has seen the area go downhill: "However, it's massively convenient with travel links into town. It's surprisingly difficult to get to places like Meadowhall though.""The community is getting better, people are trying to raise the bar with local groups and it seems to be working." "They closed the Yorkshire Bank and are closing the Natwest bank. That's had a big impact on business, it's been like a domino effect and it hit us hard."People don't come here, because it was people nipping to the bank and they'd maybe stay, come for something to eat.Despite this, she says the busy has managed to remain busy: "It's pleasant here. We get mothers using the playgroup, the midwifery clinics. We're open to anybody," she said."Everything is fresh, we have things like chilli, quiches and cakes. There's enough takeaways in the area so it's nice to have that."Across the road, you can find Richardson's DIY, one of the oldest independent traders in Firth Park. The family-run business has been a trading since 1957, and is now run by Steve Richardson, 46, who is proud to be part of the local community.He said: "It started with my Grandfather, then my dad and now me."Steve moved from the area around 20 years ago, but was brought up in the house next to the business. He says the secret to the longevity of the business is the specialised manufacturing they offer, and something that has managed to keep the business busy on the high-street. "What brings people here is the machining side, you can't get that anywhere else that I know in South Yorkshire. "It's always been hard work, my skills have been passed down. We were lucky during the recession because people couldn't afford to hire people in so did their own DIY. "We've got really nice clientele locally who know who we are."I'll be here a while yet."