Community in focus: Why 'wonderful' Walkley revels in its 'village-like' spirit
When Walkley Library on the corner of South Road was under real threat of closure in 2014, the community didn't just sit back and watch it go to waste.
When Walkley Library on the corner of South Road was under real threat of closure in 2014, the community didn’t just sit back and watch it go to waste.
Cash-strapped Sheffield Council reluctantly ruled it could no longer afford to run some of the city’s libraries. Volunteers in Walkley were asked to step up. And they sure did.
Dozens of helpers answered the community call and two years later along with plans to open a cafe/bar inside the library, the Grade II listed structure now has a new lease of life.
It’s this community spirit that transcends the area into all walks of life. From the wide selection of independent shops battling against the big chains or people going out of their way to improve the profile of Walkley.
From its humble and quiet beginnings, records show Walkley in the 17th century – a village in its own right – being joined up to neighbouring Owlerton by a dusty old horse track.
Fast forward 400 hundred years or so and the area is a bustling suburb with a mix of young professionals and families who have lived here for generations.
The views from Walkley Road overlooking Hillsborough and Wadsley and back through the city centre are the envy of many Sheffield suburbs.
But despite being swallowed up into the larger Sheffield area, the locals here still describe it as a village with fantastic architecture.
Chris Culmer, aged 60, is one of the dozens of kind-hearted volunteers who stepped up to help keep Walkley library going. She has lived in the area for three years.
On shift with her fellow volunteers, Chris said those who got involved were really ‘passionate’ about the community.
Despite living in Birmingham and Warwickshire for the majority of her life, Chris said she ranked Walkley ‘right at the top’ compared to where she previously lived.
“I love Walkley, I love the atmosphere the place has, I love the views and it has got the village feel but it’s not too far away from the city centre.”
The threats of the potential closure of the library in 2014 was well publicised but Chris said the volunteers try to stay away from the politics.
“As volunteers, we here to run the library so we’re not involved in that too much,” she said.
“We’re obviously aware of bits and pieces going on in the background but whenever this place is open then we turn up and get on with the job.
“We’re all here because we care and we’re interested in keeping this place ticking over.
“It’s a community asset, that’s what we’re after. We get people of all ages here and it’s a nice building for all of Walkley to enjoy.
“We are changing with the times. It’s not just a place where you can come and get a book out, we’ve got classes, craft sessions toddler groups and all sorts going on.”
Luke Fanthome is the chair of the Walkley Forum – a community group that aims to champion the area.
Despite being just 28 and working full-time in IT, Luke said he wanted to make a difference to where he lives and raise its profile. Along with other committee members, he’s currently busy planning next year’s festival.
Luke is another who describes Walkley as a ‘village’ and feels the area is really taking off.
“The Walkley Forum is a place where people can raise issues that really affect them. It brings local people, elected councillors and the all sorts of people involved in the area together.
“I think the regeneration of Walkley started around five years ago. I think it’s a popular alternative to Crookes and if you ask an estate agent they’ll tell you the house prices have risen in the last couple of years.”
There are things he feels could improve Walkley. Luke said: “It may sound trivial but more parking would be ideal. If we could somehow improve the accessibility to the shops. If we get that, I’m sure we can fill some of the empty units.”
The quirky Sheffield suburb also made headlines and some jokes when Walkley butcher Chris Beeches, 46, created a special burger and sausage to celebrate Sheffield Wednesday’s play-off final clash back in May. Many rival Sheffield United supporters were quick to jump on the ‘pig’ jokes which inevitably followed.
Away from the tongue-in-cheek jokes, Chris said he’s proud to be a ‘Walkley lad’ and was born on Wales Road. He’s ran his popular butchers on South Road for over five years now and wants to champion people shopping local.
“The area did go downhill in my opinion but a few more businesses moved in and it seemed to lift the place,” he said.
“We want more people to shop local. If people do that more businesses will thrive and thriving businesses attract other businesses and we need that football.
“It’s been my quietest year since I moved on South Road so that’s why I’m trying my best to encourage people to shop local and really support businesses in Walkley.”
Further along South Road is the Rose House pub.
Landlord Charlie Briggs moved from Norfolk Park to Walkley to run the pub with his wife Dawn two-and-a-half years ago and they haven’t looked back.
“We didn’t want an estate pub which was artificial and bland, we wanted a proper community pub,” he said.
“The best thing about Walkley is the punters we get in. We’ve got a core of older chaps and families who come in. Everyone is really friendly, we like it here.
“It might sound daft for me to say, but a few more pubs would be great on here. There used to be about 16 in the area now there’s only five. People don’t want to sit in a pub all night, they like to pop in for a drink in different ones.”
Popping in for a pint at Rose House is Stephen Clay. The 52-year-old is Walkley born and bred and proudly declares he ‘wouldn’t live anywhere else’.
“It’s a great area to live, I know lots of people around here, they’re are ever so nice,” he said.
“I’ve lived here all my life, I was born around the corner I wouldn’t want to move anywhere else. Some people say it’s like a village and I’d agree with that.
“People around here look out for you, we don’t get lots of trouble or anything. If anyone needs anything, they’ll be someone to help you out. Need a plumber, an electrician or whatever just pop into a pub and someone will know somebody. It’s that kind of place.”