Sheffield’s Gleadless Valley: ‘We stand up to those who try to defeat us’
Vandalism is, unfortunately, an inevitable part of having an open space for people to enjoy. Even with high walls and fences, some individuals will still attempt to destroy the places cherished by communities. Another thing is also certain: Gleadless folk do not give in.
On a midweek morning, sunny Gleadless Valley is mostly quiet, except for the sound of a hedge trimmer on the path and some house music blaring out of one home.
High-rise flats cover the landscape, scatterings of litter and spots of graffiti are daubed on walls but, up a slope, the sun shines particularly brightly on Herdings Community and Heritage Centre.
The Grade II-listed building is the second oldest in Sheffield, built in the 1600s as a farmhouse. It became a youth club under Sheffield Council’s ownership and after Reach South Yorkshire took it over it has grown into a flourishing gardening project and meeting place for young carers, disadvantaged children, adult learners and other members of the community.
“It’s the most gorgeous building around and a really nice place to come to work every day,” said Wesley Peters, who oversees the educational programmes at the centre.
But it is not always so peaceful. More than 10 years of hard work by volunteers and staff has made it the vital place it is today but all that was nearly destroyed when vandals went on a wrecking spree last weekend.
Volunteers arrived at work to find the place ‘in ruins’ and their hard work trashed, ripped and kicked over.
Steve Rundell, chief executive of Reach South Sheffield, said: “It’s really disheartening, mostly because volunteers have dedicated time and resources into carefully building the place and a lot of that has been destroyed.”
Despite the attack almost completely demolishing the gardening project, the food from which is given to local food banks and lunch clubs, and making a £3,000 polytunnel irreparable, the community are determined to carry on.
“It’s such a valuable part of the community. We are not going to be defeated or scared away by it. We will continue to grow the food and support the community,” said Mr Rundell.
Mr Peters added: “It’s been really good. Everybody has rallied around - we’ve had people from the local school come round to see if they can help, residents, all the staff and volunteers have been helping clear up. The council have been and done all the repairs now - the smashed windows and shutters.”
He said like any deprived community, Gleadless has its challenges but it was also generally a ‘very friendly’ place with ‘lovely’ people.
“The community spirit is the best part about it, if something happens the community will come together. It’s quite a close-knit environment, everybody knows everyone. The worst parts are the motorbikes that drive around on the paths, the damage that happens to vehicles and littering.”
Further up Gleadless Road, as you head towards the city centre, sits a farm full of rare breed animals - from tarantulas and komodo dragons to cows and ponies - in the middle of a busy residential area.
Heeley City Farm is a wonder. Walking around you are met by loads of people of all ages enjoying the many things it has to offer.
As well as around 100 adorable animals it has its own garden centre, dementia garden, classrooms, Iron Age roundhouse, beehives, vegan-friendly cafe and an advisory energy centre.
It is also where people with learning disabilities and excluded pupils from across Sheffield regularly come to learn new skills and look after the garden and animals.
It too has suffered continuous spates of vandalism. In some of the worst cases youths broke in to the polytunnels to slash the sides and smoke, while in the garden centre tables full with potted plants were kicked over, undoing hours of careful work. Volunteers from the farm were also on site at Herdings after their recent attack to help clean up and rebuild.
Sue Pearson, chief executive of the farm, said: “We get a lot of vandalism, there’s little spates of it and we just have to keep on it and not give in. There’s many more people who value the farm than would cause harm so we have to hang on to that.
“We’ve had CCTV cameras but it doesn’t make any difference.”
Bt, like Herdings, the farm continues to thrive and be a beating heart for the community despite the actions of a few.
Rachel Gilbert, from Gleadless, who has worked at the farm for 12 years, said: “I just love that you never really know how your day is going to go. Everyday is different and brings a new reward or challenge, it’s just interesting. Gleadless is quite a nice, quiet area, I wouldn’t change it – I’ve always lived there. The farm provides somewhere local that’s free where people can learn about animals.”
It was set up in 1981 after what Coun Lewis Dagnall, ward representative for Gleadless Valley and trustee of the farm, calls ‘one of the most bitter disputes in the history of Sheffield’.
The land was earmarked for a bypass until it faced huge opposition from the public. Once it was saved the community decided to turn it into a farm.
Ms Pearson said: “There was a sort of movement for city farms at the time, the idea was that city kids could get that connection with the environment and nature.
“There’s a need for outdoor play and a way for kids to learn outside. We want people of all aged to enjoy it – our volunteers range from aged eight to 88.”
Pigasus – a statue of a flying pig – ‘flies’ high at the site. It was made in reference to a councillor’s remark: “There will be a farm in Heeley when pigs fly.”
It now serves as a salutory reminder that communities will continue to defy the odds no matter what challenges they face.