Pitsmoor playground's long climb to new vision
Hidden away off a quiet road in Pitsmoor is a child's paradise.
A gleaming steel slide, brightly coloured zip wire, and roundabout are in full use, the playground is alive with laughter and the sound of children’s voices calling out to each other.
Parents sit chatting on a brand-new roof garden with one-eye watching their joyful offspring.
It is a sunny spring day and The Pitsmoor Adventure Playground is a riot of colour.
But without the backing of the community the facility would be closed fallen silent.
The Pitsmoor and Burngreave community has had to fight for the playground after it faced closure in 2013 due to council cuts.
Residents formed their own charity and worked tirelessly to raise money for the new play equipment Money was donated by Arches Housing Association, The Ward Pot, Chris Cave Foundation and Burngreave Tenants’ and Residents’ Association.
Most of the equipment has been found by staff or donated from schools of families. As playworker Fran Belbin, aged 50, puts it: “We’re top salvagers.”
The staff are clearly proud of the site, which was in a bad state before it was taken over by the charity. Most of the equipment has had to be rebuilt or is newly installed.
Students from Sheffield University recently spent six weeks building a garden on top of the small building that is used as office and kitchen space as well as installing a new tyre swing and den making equipment. But the site is more than just a playground.
“It’s a community hub”, said playground manager Patrick Meleady.
He said the area had been hit by a crime wave in recent years and residents felt that their area has had enough of its bad reputation.
He said: “Everyone felt that it was important to keep it open. There are so many positive activities that go on here, it is a safe haven for the children to come to, no matter what else is going on. The area has such a negative stereotype but it’s not like that and it never has been.
“ Those feeling brought so much support and we have seen a massive transformation. Some of the equipment wasn’t safe to play on but now it’s a vibrant place to be.”
“When it was reopened children just didn’t know what to do or how to play with the equipment. They kept asking permission and kept saying ‘What is that?’ and ‘How do you use that?’, but after a while they started to play and experiment and now new children coming in have an example of how to use things.
“They learn about risk and it is about gaining confidence. Skills learned in the playground do transfer into outside life. That’s why having somewhere like this is so important.”
“There’s a diverse mix of kids here, there’s new people moving in all the time. There a good mix and that reflects the community as a whole. Somewhere like this is makes people feel welcome.
I’ve seen children come here and they can’t speak English and they are withdrawn but they keep coming back and then suddenly they’re communicating effectively and laughing and smiling. It’s wonderful to see.”
The new facilities have been a roaring success and funding has been given to the charity to employ three members of staff for the next three years. The playground is also now open for an extra day every week from Tuesday to Saturday.
The place is bustling, with more than 150 people turning up daily. There is an endless itinerary of events, including fire safety talks run by South Yorkshire Fire Service, first aid lessons for parents, bake-offs , fundraisers...the list goes on,
The people of Pitsmoor are clearly taking pride in the playground, their home, and the rest of the city. Painted on walls are the faces of Sheffield-born Jessica Ennis-Hill and footballer Kyle Walker and the slide has been named the ‘Harry Brearley slide and is made of local steel.
Fran said: “He grew up here and is local hero, We wanted to reclaim him as our own. We’re proud of our community.”
And so they should be. The playground won a national playwork award for raising the profile of play and were recognised at the local Burngreave awards this year.
Patrick said: The awards were the icing on the cake. We’ve got challenges ahead but we’ve got a lease for 25 years. The feedback we’ve had so far has been great. We’ve been told to keep doing what we’re doing. We’re never going to be financially self sufficient will always rely on funding. But it is worth fighting for.”