Drugs and violence are a big problem - but the Wicker will get better, say business owners

Paul Smith and Sean Day during the Tramlines event at Sadacca.
Paul Smith and Sean Day during the Tramlines event at Sadacca.
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The Wicker is famous for its arches and its mention in a Sheffield tongue-twister - "t'Wicker wheer t'watter runs o'er t'weir".

But it is also becoming known for drugs and violent crime, with recent incidents such as the double stabbing at the start of July bringing the wrong sort of headlines.

The Wicker.

The Wicker.

It's not a particularly residential area but there are plenty of businesses around the Wicker, from established retailers to upcoming tech firms such as The Floow.

And it sits right on the edge of Castlegate, an area identified as key for the regeneration of the city centre.

So has the recent increase in violence caused concern in the Wicker?

Not for those who visited the Sheffield and District African Caribbean Community Association during the Tramlines weekend.

Alfie Wright, Grace Wilinson and Hana Edwards perform at Sadacca.

Alfie Wright, Grace Wilinson and Hana Edwards perform at Sadacca.

The community group, known as Sadacca, was linked to the double stabbing because the violence started during a private function at its building.

But it was granted a licence to host two days of family fun and entertainment despite police concerns.

Sadacca committee members hope this year's event can be the start of an annual carnival-style weekend on the Wicker.

Among the acts playing on the Sunday afternoon were school friends Alfie Wright, Grace Wilkinson and Hana Edwards. The Year 8 pupils at Ecclesfield School performed a range of hits from The Beatles to Ed Sheeran in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere.

Graham Larkins of Custom Wizard Motorcycles.

Graham Larkins of Custom Wizard Motorcycles.

Clapping along in the audience was Alfie's proud nan Jean Boswell. She and her husband remember being part of Unison meetings at Sadacca many years ago.

"I have never had any problems here," she said. "We used to hold quite a lot of meetings here and I have never seen any trouble.

"I think it's important to have a place like this on the Wicker. I have got quite a lot of friends from the Afro-Caribbean community through the NHS, and I have never had any problems - and I feel safe here."

Also performing was Sean Day, a rapper and spoken word artist. A first-time visitor to Sadacca, he knew about the recent violence but chose not to let it influence his opinion of the area.

The Big Gun is the last pub on the Wicker.

The Big Gun is the last pub on the Wicker.

"You can't put it down to a place," he said. "That's not fair at all."

And playing the saxophone was Paul Smith, a long-time Sadacca visitor. He remembers the club as a big part of his family upbringing.

"I've only been playing for four years - I want to show people that it's possible and you can do it," he said.

Paul said the mix of styles and genres on stage was a great example of how people from different backgrounds could mingle.

"It's always been a reggae place but it's nice that they have changed it to get a bit of a mixed community together," he added.

Sadacca has been part of the Wicker for almost 30 years. One man who has been there even longer is Graham Larkins, who runs Custom Wizard Motorcycles from under the viaduct arches.

Film maker Brett Chapman in his studio.

Film maker Brett Chapman in his studio.

He began as a breaker and second hand part supplier and has evolved his business into a retailer specialising in custom Harley Davidson bikes.

Graham remembers a very different Wicker in 1977.

"The door was still open and you could go up the stairs to the station," he said. "It wasn't operational but you could go up there.

"This was a quiet road."

Over the decades different communities moved in and a range of restaurants opened up - filling the nostrils with delicious smells during a walk along the Wicker.

But Graham has also seen crime on the rise.

"I've noticed a big change in the drug situation," he said. "There was nothing like that at the time we started.

"They are being peddled quite openly at times, which is a shame."

Graham has never had any problems himself, but is worried about the perception obvious drug dealing and cars with blacked out windows creates for his customers. A business group was formed to try to tackle the issue, he said, but it has since disbanded.

"It can look a bit intimidating, especially because they are dealing," he said.

But Graham is hopeful the Wicker can get past its troubles.

"It would be nice - and it will happen - where all these different cultures come together. And it will be a better place for it."

Another long-time Wicker business is The Big Gun, now the last remaining pub in the street. Landlord Terry Turner said the drug problem was getting worse.

"I have had a customer attacked out here with a knife," he said.

"It's just young people. There are cameras next door but they just don't care."

Terry said he rarely saw police patrolling the area.

"I don't think it will ever improve down here - I think it has gone too far," he said.

"It's intimidating. The majority of my customers that used to get a bus now get a taxi."

One of the newer faces in the area is film maker Brett Chapman, who has a studio in a building off Joiner Street.

Life on the Wicker did not start smoothly for the former University of Sheffield student, but he has established a base and is impressed with the community around him.

"I’d be lying if I said that the Wicker doesn’t have some problems - but it’s also full of great people," he said.

"When I first moved into my building I was greeted with a brick through my window and I could have taken that as a sign and left, but I fixed the window and got to know the people in my building and my community.

"I feel like the majority of us down here are just trying to get on with our lives, jobs and families and it’s a shame so many people seem to be down on the area right now. There’s a thriving little creative scene popping up on the Wicker and it’s an exciting time to be here."

Brett, whose film 'The Residue of a Relationship' has been playing at film festivals in the UK and US this year, said it would be 'folly' to overlook the problems with violence and gangs, but added: "The Wicker has the potential to be a really vibrant part of Sheffield."

The Joiner Street building also houses a church, furniture makers and Knox Boxing Gym, run by Steve Stocks and Damian 'Combo' Brown.

Knox welcomes people of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds. The gym's main aim is fitness, based on bodyweight exercises and sparring.

But there is also a hope that by getting young men in particular off the streets and giving them focus, the gym can help solve some of the problems in the area.

"The first idea is fitness," said Damian. "It's showing people that you don't need gym machines to work out. You can do it anywhere.

"But my motto is pull on bars, don't get put behind them.

"Guys come in here and within 30 seconds of sparring they are blowing and it's too hard."

He added: "The feedback we get is really good. It's looking at lifestyle and discipline."

Steve Stocks and Damian 'Combo' Brown at Knox Boxing Gym.

Steve Stocks and Damian 'Combo' Brown at Knox Boxing Gym.