Drive for inclusive community in Sheffield suburb 'will be strengthened by tree fight'

Sheldon Road in Nether Edge, where a number of trees are due to be felled.
Sheldon Road in Nether Edge, where a number of trees are due to be felled.
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It's been a year of headlines for the Sheffield suburb known for its leafy avenues and independent businesses.

When The Star last visited in December we highlighted the beauty and diversity of Nether Edge, as well as community efforts to tackle antisocial behaviour.

Coun Alison Teal talks to police during a protest in Chippinghouse Road in February.

Coun Alison Teal talks to police during a protest in Chippinghouse Road in February.

That community spirit is still strong and will be shown in full during the nine-day Nether Edge Festival, now in its third year, that takes place later this month.

But a scan through our recent archives also tells a story of anger and activism.

The peaceful, tree-lined streets of Nether Edge have this year become the scene of protests and surveillance as the ongoing dispute between the council and campaigners opposed to the city-wide felling and replacement programme has intensified.

Many of those who have found themselves caught up in the quarrel had little or no history of dissension. But their commitment to their belief that healthy street trees are being cut down for profit has led some to places previously unthinkable - such as in front of a High Court judge.

Nether Edge Festival chairman Maggie Little.

Nether Edge Festival chairman Maggie Little.

Nether Edge and Sharrow councillor Alison Teal is perhaps one of the most prominent examples of this. The Green Party member had never been in trouble with the police, but in February found herself in the back of a police van after a peaceful protest under trees in Chippinghouse Road.

She is also one of three campaigners who are now the named subjects of an injunction brought by her own council.

The group fighting to save street trees in Nether Edge, says Coun Teal, is even more determined as a result of the court action.

"Residents are trying everything they possibly can to try to keep as many trees as possible," she said.

Sounds of the Spirit held at St Andrew's Psalter Lane Church during the 2016 Nether Edge Festival.

Sounds of the Spirit held at St Andrew's Psalter Lane Church during the 2016 Nether Edge Festival.

"I think it's driven more people to get involved."

Community spirit existed in the area before the felling began. It has been tested in streets where some are in favour and some are opposed, which have been 'ripped apart', according to Coun Teal.

But she believes most people have been drawn closer together.

"We have talked about what good can come out of this," she said. "I think there's a strong feeling that we want to do more to improve the community together and form some lovely friendships."

Nether Edge Bowling Club secretary Michelle Pieprzak.

Nether Edge Bowling Club secretary Michelle Pieprzak.

Bringing people together was one of the key aims that led to the first Nether Edge Festival, which took place this month in 2015.

The event has grown into an extended celebration of the talents and backgrounds of the various cultures that live in the neighbourhood, and this year will run at a number of venues from September 15 to 24, culminating in a big party in Chelsea Park on the final day.

Festival chairman Maggie Little said there had historically been a divide between the leafy, mostly white streets at the top of the hill and the area towards Sharrow and Heeley where other ethnic groups tended to settle.

"We are a community of two halves," she said.

"We really want to bring the two together and get it to become more inclusive."

The festival has played a big part in that. Ethnicity takes a backseat to family fun at the Chelsea Park party, and Maggie said integration had improved each year. Events such as the opening carnival at the Common Ground Community Centre in Empire Road are also designed to celebrate diversity.

One Nation Community Centre celebrates a grant from Sport England.

One Nation Community Centre celebrates a grant from Sport England.

That aim is shared by the team behind One Nation Community Centre in Leyburn Road. Set up initially as a place to keep troublemakers off the streets, it has evolved into a place where young people from all backgrounds can find focus and purpose through sports such as boxing.

Help has come from a Sport England grant, but also the hard work of people like Wajid Nazir.

"Kids always said there was nowhere for them to go," he said. "So they either had this or were back to antisocial behaviour and getting arrested."

Working with the council the centre has managed to cut drug dealing by tidying up Broadfield Park, and now holds outdoor exercise sessions. It also runs women-only fitness classes as well as sporting events across the city.

"We've got different organisations pulling together and using each other's resources. It's fantastic compared to what it was," said Wajid.

One of the more established Nether Edge groups is the 150-year-old bowling club in Nether Edge Road. Hidden away behind houses and a tall stone wall, it is not immediately recognisable. But it is an important part of community social life - particularly for older generations.

Secretary Michelle Pieprzak said there had been a drive to involve the local area more in the 'little oasis in the centre of Nether Edge' in recent years.

"Quite a lot of friendships are formed within the club," she said.

"We also have bands on and other social events. The club is opened up for the farmer's market."

Michelle has lived in Nether Edge for about 20 years. She says the mix of people and range of homes give it an interesting feel, adding: "You probably feel more comfortable in your own environment here."

Many Nether Edge residents have moved to the area from elsewhere in Sheffield and further afield. Matt and Rachel Harland, who grew up in Sheffield before moving to London via Edinburgh, wanted to keep up their active lifestyle when they returned to their home city.

"The location is great - we can easily walk to work and the town centre," said Matt, a teacher.

"We wanted to be close to a good range of amenities and the fantastic pubs, restaurants and independent shops around Abbeydale Road and Sharrow Vale Road are perfect.

"We also wanted to be in a lively, diverse community which we found harder to find in more suburban areas.

"The community are very friendly and proactive in putting on events; from the farmer's market to the Nether Edge Festival, there's always a community event on your doorstep."

Living in Montgomery Road it was perhaps inevitable that the couple were drawn into the tree dispute, and while they have not yet joined the protests, Matt said: "It's a shame that a huge number of trees on our road have been marked for removal by the council, the vast majority of which cause no problems at all.

"It would be a shame to lose so much greenery as it takes away from the character of the area."

Nether Edge clearly offers plenty to those who choose to live there. But it is also becoming a destination, thanks to a growing range of independent business and attractions such as the Abbeydale Picture House.

Jules Gray and Will Linford set up Hop Hideout as a pop-up before moving to a permanent home in Abbeydale Road in March 2015. They sell all sorts of beers sourced locally and globally, and offer a tasting bar along with social events such as a running club.

"We get regulars who have been with us since the beginning and followed the story," said Jules. "We are part of people discovering beer."

But customers also come from further afield. Just this week a group from Italy visited the shop.

Increasing the customer base of the Hop Hideout is obviously a priority. But Jules is also keen to see success all around her.

"It's a growing area. You can see that with Chinatown, and there is so much development between here and there," she said.

"We do get a lot of customers saying they have just moved to the area. That's encouraging to hear as a local business."

- For a full programme of festival events visit www.netheredgefestival.co.uk.

Hop Hideout co-owner Jules Gray.

Hop Hideout co-owner Jules Gray.