Communities are coming together to turn Sheffield’s unused urban plots into vibrant parks and green spaces.
Around the city pockets of land are being transformed by groups of dedicated residents, to the huge benefit of those living and working nearby. And the work is a microcosm of what Sheffield Council hopes to achieve with The Outdoor City project.
In Heeley, what was once a run-down inner city park has been turned into a space that incorporates nature, sport and entertainment. The success of Heeley People’s Park has revitalised the neighbourhood and brought in all sorts of new businesses.
Andy Jackson has been involved from the beginning, when the Heeley Development Trust was set up in 1996.
He said: “The trust’s job was initially to take on land which had been derelict or fallow for the best part of 20 years and manage it as a public park. Heeley is now one of the biggest publicly-managed parks in the UK.
“Since then we have been managing and developing that and other projects all designed to make our neighbourhood vibrant and successful - a nice place for people to be.”
The most recent project is the development of Sum Studios. The trust took on the former Heeley Bank School buildings, which were named among the 10 most at-risk Victorian and Edwardian buildings in England and Wales in 2013, with the aim of turning one of them into a business hub.
Thanks to hard work and investment, they created a bright, modern space which reflects the building’s history. It is now home to dozens of businesses and has a long waiting list. The trust now hopes to attract more investment and turn the two remaining buildings into centres for artists and makers.
“The buildings belong to the people of Sheffield under community ownership and stewardship,” said Andy. “Their future are linked directly with the landscape around it.”
The appeal of the park next door to Sum Studios helps attract businesses. And any money the building generates goes straight back into the park.
Andy said: “By linking people, land and buildings together we have got a model that works.
“We have been sat here for 20 years trying to do this quietly. Throughout that time we have seen the fortunes of Sheffield wax and wane. In our own little way we have been trying to develop ideas around play, risk and adventure for our young people.”
Andy is involved in The Outdoor City project, and points to the development of Heeley as an example of how a community-led strategy can work, and how the outdoors can begin on people’s doorsteps.
He said: “One of the things that makes Sheffield really special is its outdoors. We are coming across people living locally, climbers, who wanted boulders in the park. We have been thinking for a long time about the outdoors.
“Sheffield doesn’t want to be like Leeds or Manchester.”
And like at Sum Studios, business has a role to play as well. With all the outdoors firms based in Sheffield, Andy believes it has a strong claim to be the capital of outdoor business in the same way as Portland in Oregon, in the United States.
“We knew our community was full of designers and makers,” he said. “We also knew we had climbers and outdoor pursuit businesses in our community. We wanted them to be represented.
“We’ve now got a city recognising and celebrating and developing the outdoors, and quite a few of the businesses are based here at Sum Studios.”
The Outdoor City:
The importance of green space, however big or small, was also recognised in a project called Living with Nature, a partnership between the council, the University of Sheffield and the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust. The aim was to revitalise plots at 24 social housing communities across the city.
Helen Woolley, a reader in landscape architecture and society at the university, led the project, which ran from 2011 to 2014.
She said: “It was a project to remind people of the importance of green spaces which had become forgotten, and also improve the play areas for children.
“Some of the communities are still keeping these projects alive, changing the spaces and holding events.”
Involving residents in the project helped give them a sense of ownership, said Helen.
“It’s very important that people get outside. It’s important for physical, social and mental health - there is research to support that.
“A lot of people are just sitting in their jobs and not doing active things. Being out there in a space that’s green and can offer these positive aspects is really important.”
And there is plenty of desire to see even more green spaces in Sheffield. The council itself has brought colour and life to West Bar, in the city centre, with its Grey to Green project. And one of the ideas to come from the Vibrant Sheffield live lab held at the Winter Gardens in May was to regenerate unused green spaces, such as the plot on the corner of Howard Road in Crookesmoor.
Vibrant Sheffield community manager Farah Najeeb said the idea was one of the most popular of about 600 submitted at the event.
“There have since been a number of people interested in supporting the idea with suggestions of places that need to be regenerated,” she said. “One suggestion was to turn spaces into growing gardens.”
The live lab was organised by accountancy firm Grant Thornton, and a follow-up will be held at the Winter Gardens from 6pm on Tuesday, where the idea is likely to be discussed again.
“If people feel like they are been able to have a say and be part of the change then it definitely promotes community,” said Farah.
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