Something to celebrate in Stocksbridge
It's been a positive year for Stocksbridge.
In April, the town’s leisure centre reopened thanks to the efforts of volunteers, three years after closing permanently due to council budget cuts.
In May, former Stocksbridge Park Steels Football Club player Jamie Vardy put the town on the sporting map with his side Leicester City by winning the Premier League – despite 5,000/1 odds at the start of the season.
In June, the ambitious £50 million Fox Valley shopping centre opened in town to a great deal of public excitement, transforming a former steelworks into a high-end retail and leisure destination.
Sheffield artist Pete McKee painted a huge mural at the centre, paying homage to the town’s heritage in steel and paragon umbrellas.
And just last week, the town was announced as the start – or finish – for the third Tour de Yorkshire bicycle race.
Organisers Welcome to Yorkshire are due to make an announcement on this very soon.
The second tour was watched by 11.4 million global television viewers earlier this year, up from six million in 2015. Thousands of people lined the streets to watch the riders too.
Mayor of Stocksbridge Coun Alan Law said: “Tour de Yorkshire is going to be huge for the town next year.
“Once we’ve got the full details of what’s happening, we are hoping to get the whole community involved; the schools, the leisure centre, Fox Valley shopping centre – it will be a fantastic celebration.”
For Fay Howard, however, who helped to save Stocksbridge Community Leisure Centre, there is already a sense of celebration in the air.
“The mood in Stocksbridge is so positive right now,” Fay said. “There real sense of excitement in the town – it feels as though there’s something to celebrate, which is so great.”
“Stocksbridge people are proud of their heritage, but that’s even more obvious now.
Fay said that since the pool reopened, the facility has gone from ‘strength to strength’.
“Customer numbers are up, memberships are up, we’ve got more volunteers,” she said. “We are actually making a profit too, which is amazing.
“There are around 160 people who volunteer, with 20 regular people. For me, this just shows the strength of community spirit in the area.
“We couldn’t have done what we did without the volunteers.”
There is, however, one cloud that continues to hang over the town – the future of British steel.
Stocksbridge in particular is synonymous with steel. The town was built around the steelworks, which still dominate it, despite being down-sized drastically in recent years.
And as Tata Steels struggles to find a buyer, hundreds of jobs in the town remain uncertain – putting a strain on many families.
Former steelworker Nathan Helliwell, aged 35, said: “The steelworks is the lifeblood of this community. It can’t survive without the steelworks.
“Probably 50 per cent of the people who live here either work there or have had family members there.
“There is nothing around here any more. Everything is closing down. It’s not the environment that it was 20 or 30 years ago.”
But for resident Liz Fletcher, 62, Stocksbridge has a lot going for it
“We’ve got the shopping centre, leisure centre, a lovely history museum,” she said.
“Stocksbridge has a lot going for it. I just wish they’d get the roads done, it’s been causing chaos with the buses lately.”
Amanda Holmes, of Dransfield Properties, the company behind Fox Valley shopping centre, said she was ’delighted’ with how things have gone in the first year.
Amanda, who was born and raised in Stocksbridge, said: “The whole development has been almost 10 years in the planning and building so it’s fantastic to see the buzzing and vibrant centre we have here now the development is fully open.
“It’s not just used by people from Stocksbridge either. We have some flagship stores here, we have shops here which aren’t in the city centre and we are finding people are visiting us from all over South Yorkshire.”
Mayor Alan Law added: “There has been some controversy about the shopping centre over the years. But now it’s been done, and done well, people are very proud. Stocksbridge is a town on the up and I am happy to see it.”