Community pulls together after fatal shooting: spotlight on Upperthorpe

Aseel's Restaurant in Upperthorpe, named after the shooting victim Aseel Al-EssaieAseel's Restaurant in Upperthorpe, named after the shooting victim Aseel Al-Essaie
Aseel's Restaurant in Upperthorpe, named after the shooting victim Aseel Al-Essaie
The fatal shooting of a young man in Upperthorpe, a short walk from Sheffield city centre, shook the neighbourhood back in February.

But the response to Aseel Al-Essaie's death showed the diverse community's true colours as it pulled together in grief.

The 23-year-old's image is everywhere, from the photos on the railings in Daniel Hill where he was gunned down on a Saturday afternoon to the mural on the wall of a tattoo parlour accompanied by the message 'rest in peace bro'.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
A mural painted in tribute to Aseel Al-EssaieA mural painted in tribute to Aseel Al-Essaie
A mural painted in tribute to Aseel Al-Essaie

His smiling face also looks down from the sign of his grandfather's Yemeni restaurant in Upperthorpe Road, named in his honour as Aseel's Restaurant.

Inside, Aseel's cousin tells me how although the area is not the same without Aseel's charismatic presence, his family has been touched by the community's reaction to the tragedy.

"There's been a great community response. A few days after it happened the whole community gathered for a vigil to pay their respects, and it's nice to have the mural too," says the University of Sheffield student, who asks not to be named.

"This has always been a strong community. There's a mix of cultures and everyone gets along and people are very close."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
Zest Centre in UpperthorpeZest Centre in Upperthorpe
Zest Centre in Upperthorpe

It is a view echoed by Matt Dean, chief executive of the charity Zest, which runs the Zest Centre at the top of Upperthorpe Road.

The centre is the beating heart of the community, housing a volunteer-run library, a swimming pool, gym and cafe, and it offers a plethora of activities and courses for everyone from young parents to old people at risk of social exclusion.

Many people turned to Zest for support in the wake of Aseel's killing, and it worked with other groups to provide counselling for young people left reeling by the tragedy, and assistance for worried parents who feared their children could be lured into committing crime and antisocial behaviour.

"No one's been convicted yet and there's unrest and potential for a negative outcome. But for Upperthorpe as an area, the way we have responded is a reflection of how strong the community is," says Matt.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
Zest chief executive Matt DeanZest chief executive Matt Dean
Zest chief executive Matt Dean

"It brought everyone together to look at how we ensure it doesn't create a divided community and to support those on the periphery of crime and antisocial behaviour."

It is wrong for one tragedy, however awful, to define an area, and although Upperthorpe does have its problems Matt points out they are no different to those of any other inner city area with pockets of severe deprivation.

He is keen to focus on what makes it a great place in which to live and work.

There are the fantastic parks and green spaces, for example, like The Ponderosa, which will host this year's Tramlines and Peace in the Park festivals.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
Samira Salah at the Zest CentreSamira Salah at the Zest Centre
Samira Salah at the Zest Centre

The small shopping parade has every thing you need - including a post office, GP's surgery and a handful of eateries, among them a new fish and chip shop - while the city centre is only 20 minutes or so away on foot and even less by tram or bus.

Then there's Zest itself, which began life some 25 years ago at a terraced house in Upperthorpe Road, where a group of residents met to discuss how to improve an area which the impending demolition of the 13-storey Kelvin flats block in 1995/6 would change forever.

When the library and swimming baths were at risk of closure in the early noughties, the community rallied round to save them and transform the building into a community hub.

Today, Matt explains, Zest provides an ever-expanding calendar of activities tailored to suit the needs of the community it serves, including discussion groups for people to hone their English, youth clubs, employment advice and a women-only gym.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A new Real Junk Food Project cafe is due to open shortly, where customers can pay what they feel for meals made from ingredients which would have gone to waste.

Downstairs at the Zest Centre, a parent-and-child singing session, run by Primrose Children's Centre, has just finished.

Maneka Whitaker (left) and Abi Pinnock, with their children Alex, aged 10 weeks, and Matthew, aged seven monthsManeka Whitaker (left) and Abi Pinnock, with their children Alex, aged 10 weeks, and Matthew, aged seven months
Maneka Whitaker (left) and Abi Pinnock, with their children Alex, aged 10 weeks, and Matthew, aged seven months

Samira Salah, who was there with her two children, Ayah, aged eight weeks, and one-year-old Jabir, says: "It's a great facility which I use for all the groups, like this one, and for the women-only swimming. I moved here less than a year ago, after more than 20 years in Broomhall and I really like the area."

Maneka Whitaker, who works as a doctor for Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, is there with 10-week-old Alex.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"I like Upperthorpe because it's convenient for work, you can walk into town in 20 minutes and you have this place on your doorstep," she says.

"I've lived here since 2009 and I always walked past but it was only after Alex was born that I had a reason to come. I'm here all the time now, and it's a great place to meet other mums."

Upperthorpe is becoming an increasingly popular area with young families, it seems, and Netherthorpe Primary - just up the road - was one of just five primary schools in the city which were so oversubscribed they had to turn away youngsters from within their catchment area.

The neighbourhood has a proud history of philanthropy, having been home to some of the city's biggest benefactors like master cutler John Blake and steel magnate Sir Stuart Goodwin, who is commemorated by the Goodwin Fountain in the Peace Gardens.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A blue plaque, meanwhile, marks the former home of 'Corn Law Rhymer' Ebenezer Elliott in Blake Grove Road, a poet and factory owner who fought to repeal legislation causing hardship and starvation among the poor.

That caring spirit has not disappeared, according to Helen Neale, whom I meet walking her lurcher Skye in Upperthorpe Peace Garden.

"I love living here. It's a very friendly place," she says.

"It's also between a lot of places, which sounds like a funny thing to say but it means you can move around and visit other parts of Sheffield very easily."

Dave Thomas, one of Sheffield's true eccentrics, recently opened possibly the city's most bizarre business.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He claims the intriguingly-titled Donald Trump and Richard Branson Selfie Centre is the world's only selfie centre, where customers can pose with numerous props and backdrops, including a blood-stained guillotine and a gruesome toilet modelled on the iconic scene from Trainspotting.

On the counter lies 14kg of 'cocaine' - another prop but one which caused a lot of bother when he jokingly offered some to a police officer, who he says demanded to know what other drugs he was hiding before twigging it was fake.

Dave says the venue recently hosted what he calls an Albanian Warrior Party, and is due to host a Rastafarian get-together where there will be 20 Bob Marley impersonators.

He claims to have visited nearly 90 countries but says Upperthorpe is 'unique' in having such a mix of cultures living so harmoniously.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Upperthorpe is separated from Walkley by one of Sheffield's most famous roads.

Blake Street, which stretches at an energy-sapping 16.6º angle up towards Ruskin Park, featured in The Full Monty and was recently named by the BBC as Britain's third steepest street.

At the top, beside the park, sits The Blake Hotel pub, which has proved the salvation of many an exhausted walker, or should that be climber.

Bar lady Jane Burgin says it's easy to tell which drinkers have made the trek up Blake Street from their shortage of breath and the various shades of puce colouring their faces, while one customer jokes 'they supply gas and air as well as pints'.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Taking in the majestic view of the city, as I catch my breath, it's easy to appreciate Upperthorpe's charms.

But the only true way to do so is to head down there and get chatting to the people who make it such a diverse and vibrant community.