Sheffield's Page Hall '“ united community on the up
Page Hall hit national headlines three years ago for all the wrong reasons.
David Blunkett, MP for the area at the time, accused the Government of ignoring the Roma migration issue and said he feared a repeat of the race riots that hit northern towns in 2001.
Following the comments, tabloid journalists descended on the tiny Sheffield suburb in droves to report sensational stories of racial tensions, anti-social behaviour, squalid streets, crime, poverty – and even shopkeepers being offered a baby for sale.
But nearly three years on, it seems that Page Hall is on the up.
Shopkeeper Mohammed Shaqil, aged 43, said things have improved since 2013.
“Life is much better here than before,” he said. “There are fewer incidents on the streets, there is not as much litter and there is a lot more understanding between different ethnic groups.
“It would be good to see more police patrolling, but I’m a lot happier.”
Bryan Wilkinson, 63, owner of Happy Sole shoe repairs since 1986, agreed.
“Page Hall is a lot quieter these days,” he said. “A few years ago there was always something going off, but you’re not seeing as many problems lately. I wouldn’t say it’s perfect, but where is?”
One of the driving forces behind Page Hall’s improvement is the Pakistan Advice and Community Association – PACA.
Established 20 years ago to give Pakistani migrants support and advice, the charity has diversified in recent years to reflect the many ethnic groups of Page Hall.
A branch organisation launched within PACA called Sheffield Roma Network aims to integrate and assist the Roma community.
Gulnaz Hussain, manager at PACA, said: “It’s been challenging at times, but PACA has enabled different communities to come together in one place and talk through their issues.
“In the past people would call police every time there was a problem. But a lot of these issues can be solved with a discussion.
“There are still problems around here, don’t get me wrong. There is litter and anti-social behaviour at lower levels, but we are friends, we are working through our issues and we are doing it together.
“I was born and raised on Popple Street and I’m so passionate about this area.
“It’s great that Page Hall is on the up and that life is improving.”
Gulnaz said that one of the biggest problems facing Page Hall three years ago was the sheer number of migrants to settle in the area.
“People came over with no money, no prospects, no English and many ended up living in abject poverty,” she said.
“But the fear after Brexit, as well as the lack of jobs available, has meant that many people have returned to their home countries.”
Sheffield Council also introduced a licensing scheme in the area to ensure landlords do not allow unsuitable numbers of people in properties. It also sets living standards for homes.
Coun Jayne Dunn, cabinet member for housing at Sheffield Council, said: “Selective licensing has been improving the condition of homes, which is good for Page Hall.
“We are also supporting landlords to help manage their tenancies and working with residents on issues like litter and waste.
“We have also been working with local schools and with health partners to develop stronger links with the community.”
Aside from providing a hub where differences can be discussed, PACA helps the community on a whole range of issues, including welfare rights, immigration, debt, employment, consumer, housing and a translation and interpretation service.
They also provide English classes, exercise opportunities, home visits and outreach sessions, training and work experience, information on council services, advertising for community groups and more.
Youth worker Ali Hamed, cousin of Prince Naseem, said PACA provides activities for youngsters like football and boxing.
“Kids need something positive to do with their time,” he said. “They need positive role models, some discipline and they need to have fun. That’s what we’re trying to do here.”
Roma resident Marek Pacan, 22, who volunteers at PACA, said a better understanding has been central to the improvements in Page Hall.
“Sometimes it’s as simple as telling people what the problem is,” he explained.
“Instead of calling police, or arguing, people talk things through a lot more. Life has got a lot better.”
There might be another reason why life is so sweet for Marek, though, as he has made it into the televised final of Slovakia’s Got Talent.
Marek said: “I am so excited about this. I love to sing and dance – it is in my blood.
“A lot of people won’t understand the racism Roma people experience in Slovakia. I want to show Roma people in England and back home that they can achieve great things.
“I am passionate about helping my community integrate peacefully and I want to be a positive role model.”
Gill Furniss, MP for Brightside and Hillsborough, which covers Page Hall, said she was delighted at the positive reports.
She said: “There has been a lot of work and resources put into Page Hall and it is fantastic to see it’s having a positive effect for people living there.”