Community pride in Parson Cross despite area’s ‘unfair reputation’

The Young at Heart keep fit session at Parson Cross Community Development Forum.
The Young at Heart keep fit session at Parson Cross Community Development Forum.
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Parson Cross hit national headlines after three generations of the same notorious crime family and their associates were jailed for more than 70 years for a massive drug-dealing operation and firearms offences.

New figures also recently showed the huge estate in northern Sheffield is the city’s biggest crime spot outside the centre, with more than 4,000 crimes recorded in the last three years.

Pete Gannon and Val Hughes playing table tennis

Pete Gannon and Val Hughes playing table tennis

But people living in the area say the sheer size of Parson Cross – one of the largest estates in Europe with more than 16,000 people – should be taken into account when looking at crime figures and say the reality of daily life is very different to the way it can be perceived.

Largely built after the Second World War to house steelworkers for Owlerton Valley, Parson Cross has faced huge challenges in dealing with the fallout from the collapse of the industry in the 1980s.

But the resilient community says there are plenty of things to shout about in the local area.

In recent times, new cub and scout groups have been set up in the area for the first time since the early 1990s at Mount Tabor church, while hundreds of people each week attend a host of activities at Parson Cross Community Development Forum on Margetson Crescent.

Parson Cross

Parson Cross

Everything from computer classes and a dementia support group to sports clubs and dance classes take place at the centre, which is a hub of community activity each day.

Louise Askew, an administrator at the forum, which has been open since 1999, said she believes Parson Cross has got an unfair reputation.

Louise, who lives on the Longley estate, said: “This community puts up with a lot of stick and very rarely does this area get good publicity.

“Parson Cross has got an unfair reputation.

Parson Cross

Parson Cross

“Maybe the crime stats say differently. But it is a massive place. If you compare it to other places, crime statistics are larger because we are such a big area. It is one of the biggest housing estates in Europe.”

She added: “I love where I live. People know each other and we still have quite a sense of community.

“It is not quite what it used to be but people still do look out for each other.

“I have never felt like I am not safe.

Louise Askew outside the Parson Cross community forum

Louise Askew outside the Parson Cross community forum

“If you live here, it is our community and I have got no doubt people do generally feel safe. I don’t have any concerns about walking around at any time, day or night.”

She said the area has changed over the years and does have its challenges, but they are similar to many other communities.

“We are a bit more transient, with people coming and going. Years ago, your neighbours were your neighbours for life.

“I know Parson Cross has got third-generation unemployed people within the area. We are having to work really hard to provide really good training opportunities.”

Louise said the forum is working to encourage more local people to join in and participate, helping out with its various events.

“We are desperate for volunteers for the lunch clubs and the dementia project,” she said.

Joe Mitchell was jailed for 15 years for running a drug-dealing operation with his family in Parson Cross

Joe Mitchell was jailed for 15 years for running a drug-dealing operation with his family in Parson Cross

“What we find is once they have come to one activity, people are more likely to join something else.

“It is just actually encouraging people to take back control of their own lives and their own community.”

She said preparations are currently taking place for a community fashion show on August 22, with the £5 ticket price going towards supporting the work of the forum.

Among those who make use of the community forum’s facilities are Pete Gannon and Val Hughes, who take part in the weekly Parson Cross Batters table tennis group.

Pete, aged 57, a management accountant for engineering firm Sheffield Transmission Development, said his parents moved to Parson Cross in 1947 after the new homes were built and have been in the same house ever since.

He has also spent his life in the area and believes it would benefit from more investment from both local and national Government and can often be overlooked in comparison with other areas of the city.

“The Government needs to spend more money in the north instead of just all in London. We need better housing.

“On Deerlands Avenue, they knocked down a lot of council houses and they didn’t rebuild. They have started to now but it has taken them years.

“Things like Supertram too that end in Hillsborough and didn’t extend to a massive place like Parson Cross.

“They are now working on linking Sheffield with Rotherham more and ignoring a big part of Sheffield here.

“I have always lived round here – this is the only place I know.

“When I go to Dore it is like a different world, full of posh cars and students.

“You don’t get that life round here – it is mainly families and older people.”

Retired librarian Val, 67, said: “When I was growing up, I didn’t think of it as a deprived area. You don’t when you are children.

“People now class it as one of the most deprived areas in the country.

“But it is hard to say whether I have noticed a difference.”

Both Pete and Val say the community forum is an excellent facility that allows people to take part in a range of activities while enjoying the social aspect of meeting up. Pete said: “During the teabreak, we discuss various things and put the world to rights!”

Another organisation working hard to improve life in the area is the Methodist Church-backed Parson Cross Initiative, which runs a local food bank and community gardening schemes alongside other activities

Nick Waterfield, from the group, said Parson Cross is a ‘very proud’ place.

“As we know, the area has had a number of difficulties over the years but has consistently sought to overcome them,” he said. “There has been regeneration money going in but also an awful lot of work from local people.”

Nick said despite recent issues which have included a 19-year-old being shot last week on Wordsworth Avenue, crime is ‘not the chief conversation topic’ for most people in Parson Cross.

He said: “People are more concerned about their pregnancy or gas bill than what the latest incident was at X, Y or Z.

“Parson Cross does have a bit of character. It is a very proud area and a very resilient area. It is a community that has stuck together and does work for each other. It is a very positive place.

“It is faced with the same challenges as a lot of other similar parts of the country.

“It is largely an estate built after the Second World War to house workers for an industry that disappeared in the 1980s. It was built to house steelworkers for Owlerton Valley.

“It has almost been ongoing reinvention ever since – for the last 30 years.

“Most people on the estate are working but within parts there are people trapped in a circle within poverty and long-term unemployment.

“More jobs have been created recently. There is now a local Asda and the investment on Kilner Way. More is needed without a doubt, but some employment is coming back to the area.

“There have been these improvements but you are talking about something on a massive scale.

“If Parson Cross was not part of Sheffield, it would be a town in its own right – it is big enough. If it was its own place, it would be calling out for investment.”

Nick said new cub and scout groups have been set up in the area for the first time since 1990 recently as part of ongoing efforts to expand the number of activities available to young people.

“These are not massive things in their own right but they are significant,” he said.

*Anyone interested in volunteering at the forum or buying tickets for the fashion show should call 0114 327 9727.

Nick Waterfield from the Parson Cross Initiative

Nick Waterfield from the Parson Cross Initiative