How boxing legend Brendan Ingle's spirit lives on in the Sheffield suburb he loved

Brendan Ingle's death united Sheffield in grief but nowhere was the boxing legend's loss more keenly felt than in Wincobank, from where he moulded a slew of world-beating fighters.

Thursday, 8th November 2018, 11:01 am
Updated Thursday, 8th November 2018, 11:04 am
Brendan Ingle (pic: Stuart Hastings)

As the initial wave of mourning subsides, it has been replaced by a steely determination to continue the great man's legacy and do him proud in the neighbourhood he loved.

There is a great sense of optimism about what the future holds in the suburb, fuelled in part by the unique brand of self-belief Brendan instilled in all those whose lives he touched, from boxing champions to disaffected youngsters.

Bridget Ingle and her husband Paul Stead at the Ingle Gym in Wincobank, which her late father ran

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The signs are promising, with the refurbished ground floor of Wincobank Village Hall - named in Brendan's honour - set to open shortly and ambitious plans for the Ingle Way '“ a walking circuit packed with features ranging from performance spaces to tree houses for children to explore.

Brendan's daughter Bridget Ingle, who is continuing the good work he started, through the Brendan Ingle Foundation, believes her dad would be thrilled by developments in the area but not surprised by residents' resolve to get things done.

After all, she explains, the history buff used to love recounting the story of the Brigantes, a Celtic tribe which occupied the area before and during the Roman era.

Volunteers and diners at the Lower Wincobank TARA breakfast morning. Pictured left to right are Pat Gatley, Ann Bentley, Sharon Marston, Angela Brodie and Lynn Molloy

'Dad loved Wincobank and he could never understand why some people didn't see it the way he did,' she says.

'His argument was that the Brigantes managed to resist the Romans through their wiles and determination at a time when the Romans basically ruled the world.

'How could he possibly live anywhere better, he would ask, because the Wincobankers '“ as he called them '“ had basically beaten the Romans, and nobody did that.'

Wincobank Village Hall, where the ground floor is set to open soon after a major refurbishment

The perception persists among many Wincobankers that the area fails to receive the recognition or support it deserves from elsewhere in the city, meaning that if they want anything done they must do it for themselves.

But, speaking in the modest gym where her father worked his magic, Bridget tells how this only fuels their determination.

'There's something unique about the people of Wincobank. They put their heads down and get on with it, and they tend not to give in when faced with adversity,' she says.

Jodie Whittaker is the 13th Doctor. Scenes from the latest series of Doctor Who were filmed in Wincobank (pic: BBC)

At the Lower Wincobank TARA (Tenants' and Residents' Association), where the air is thick with the heady aroma of fried breakfasts being served up by Ann Bentley and fellow volunteers, diners wonder why you would want to live anywhere else.

After all, they tell me, you have history on your doorstep in the form of the iron age hill fort and Roman Ridge, along with wonderful walks through the likes of Woolley Wood and the Trans Pennine Trail.

Meadowhall is so close I'm told '˜it's like our own corner shop', and the railway station, tram stop and bus interchange there, along with the M1's proximity, mean Wincobank is well connected.

But above all it's the warmth of those living here and the way everyone looks out for one another which people tell me time and again is what makes this such a special neighbourhood.

Lynn Molloy, a grandmother-of-seven, who volunteers at the TARA, says: 'It's very friendly. Everyone knows one other and we're always looking out for each other.

A coffee morning at Upper Wincobank Chapel

'People don't tend to leave, and if they do they usually end up coming back.'

Pat Gatley, who has lived here for 55 years, describes it as a peaceful area with everything you need, including Concord Park and its leisure centre, within easy reach.

As a former treasurer of Wincobank's Wash House community centre, she believes the new-look village hall is already helping restore some of the vibrancy lost when that closed in the 90s.

Even the new Doctor - played by Jodie Whittaker - has been to check out the area, where scenes for the latest series of Doctor Who were filmed against a backdrop of towering cranes.

Those cranes are evidence of a neighbourhood which is still evolving. In an area once dominated by steelworks, retail is now king.

Meadowhall looms large in everyone's lives here, not just as a handy place to do the Christmas shopping but as a major employer and benefactor without which the village hall refurb would not have been possible.

While there is some nostalgia for the old factories, few miss the choking smoke and poky back-to-back houses which came with them.

Meadowhall is not universally loved in Sheffield, it's fair to say, with detractors unimaginatively branding it '˜Meadowhell'.

But there's a lot of love for the shopping centre round these parts, where I'm variously told the criticism it gets is a result of snobbery or even jealousy that it's not more convenient for those in the city's more affluent quarters.

Among the most mourned icons of the area's industrial past are the Tinsley Towers, with so many people gathering in the small hours to see this local landmark flattened, I am told, it was like a derby crowd.

Perhaps that's why plans for the Steel Man to replace them beside the M1 as a symbol of homecoming to the city elicit such excitement among those I speak to.

Many have already paid to add their names and those of loved ones to the Heart of Steel, which currently resides at Meadowhall but will eventually be cradled within Sheffield's answer to the Angel of the North, with donations supporting the British Heart Foundation.

Wincobank has its problems, with fly-tipping and recent cuts to the bus service among locals' biggest bugbears.

But Penny Rea, of the Friends of Wincobank Hill, tells me those are far outweighed by its many assets, including good schools and affordable housing.

When I meet her at Upper Wincobank Chapel, the grunts and strains of the weekly Chairobics exercise class have just given way to the hubbub of the coffee morning.

Among those recovering from Chairobics is sprightly 92-year-old Betty Gilbert, a former carer who fell in love with Wincobank after moving here some 20 years ago.

Betty played a big role in the Dream Scheme, which began life on Wincobank's Flower estate in the early 1990s but proved such a success it was adopted around the world. 

It offered disaffected youths the chance to earn points through tasks like litter picking, and cash in those points to take part in trips and activities they might not otherwise have been able to afford.

'It turned them from rogues and vagabonds into decent boys,' says Betty, who recently enjoyed an emotional reunion with some of the participants.

The Dream Scheme is yet another example of Wincobankers, as Bridget and her dad would say, doing it for themselves.

In an area where everyone has their own tale of meeting Brendan, who I'm told always had time for anyone, it's clear that his spirit lives on.

One of the striking stair sculptures on a green opposite Upper Wincobank Chapel