Stocksbridge shows its true steel as it continues to thrive

If you're looking for an example of community spirit in action, there can't be many places in Sheffield that beat Stocksbridge.

The area, which provides a gateway to the Peak District, was plunged into uncertainty three years ago.

Amanda Holmes, communication director; Connor Price, a beadle at Fox Valley and Emily Hughes, PR executive, pictured at Fox Valley Shopping Centre.

Amanda Holmes, communication director; Connor Price, a beadle at Fox Valley and Emily Hughes, PR executive, pictured at Fox Valley Shopping Centre.

It was handed the devastating news that Tata, which runs a huge steel plant just off the busy A616, was selling its UK business.

For a community built on steel, it led to a period of worry for those who work and live there.

But while the community spirit may not be as visible as the stunning views in the area, once you speak to the people in the area and look back over its recent history, it is clear how much people look out for each other and work together to improve the area they live in.

The last six years have been times that tested that sense of togetherness and it wasn’t just the worry over the steelworks that was causing concern.

Riders cross the finish line at the Tour de Yorkshire in Fox Valley

Riders cross the finish line at the Tour de Yorkshire in Fox Valley

Perhaps the best example is demonstrated at Stocksbridge Community Leisure Centre.

In January 2013, residents rallied to save it after Sheffield Council announced plans to close its doors for good.

Volunteers spent thousands of hours refurbishing the building and local firms donated supplies, enabling it to reopen just 12 months later in the hands of the people, who formed the community trust 4SLC (For Stocksbridge Leisure Centre).

In April 2016, the main pool reopened – and now, almost three years later, Sheffield Council is expected to extend the lease for community trust S4LC to continue running the centre for an extra five years.

Tom Newman and Kate Hughes, of the Steel Valley Project pictured on land above Stocksbridge. Picture: David Bocking.

Tom Newman and Kate Hughes, of the Steel Valley Project pictured on land above Stocksbridge. Picture: David Bocking.

The current lease, which started in 2015 is for 25 years but if the decision to extend it is approved at a meeting of the council’s Cabinet next week this will increase the term of the lease to 30 years, up to 2045.

The positive news and changes kept coming for the area when Liberty House Group announced in February 2017 it was buying Tara’s steel plants in Stocksbridge and Rotherham, which employ around 1,700 workers.

It was a great shot of optimism for the area.

The steelworks can be seen by the thousands of commuters who use the A616 Stocksbridge Bypass to reach the Woodhead Pass and travel across the Pennines.

Fox Valley Shopping Park and Liberty Steel pictured from Samuel Fox Avenue. Mr Fox established a steelworks in the town in 1842. Picture: Sam Cooper / The Star.

Fox Valley Shopping Park and Liberty Steel pictured from Samuel Fox Avenue. Mr Fox established a steelworks in the town in 1842. Picture: Sam Cooper / The Star.

Coun Julie Grocutt, chairman of Stocksbridge Town Council, said: "The steelworks have been here for a long time and a lot of the area grew up around it so in terms of keeping the local economy going, it's extremely important.

"That and Fox Valley Shopping Park are our main sources of employment in the area so it was really important that the steel works were saved – not least because it was one of the few steelworks that was making a profit because it produces speciality steels."

The steelworks is not the only part of Stocksbridge to catch the eye of drivers. 

Fox Valley also has a prominent place in the town, with a new roundabout installed on the A616 when it opened back in 2016.

Coun Grocutt added: "Fox Valley and the steelworks are an investment in the future of the town at the end of the day because the work they do is looking to the future so they’re extremely important.

"We are very lucky that we are surrounding by some fantastic countryside and we have got the leisure centre, where I am now, and we want to be part of the outdoor city that Sheffield Council is promoting.

Libery Steel, Stocksbridge. Picture: Sam Cooper / The Star.

Libery Steel, Stocksbridge. Picture: Sam Cooper / The Star.

"It's really important that we have these facilities so that people have got somewhere to continue their leisure activities once they've been in the countryside and they're spending money in Stocksbridge."

The £50 million retail park has just enjoyed one of its busiest Christmases yet with footfall up 15 per cent on the previous year.

Amanda Holmes, communications director, said: “We were planning this for about eight years before it opened. We started building in 2014 and opened in June 2016.

“What we wanted to to do was give Stocksbridge the retail heart it never had. Stocksbridge is in a valley and the steelworks has taken up the land at the bottom but once they needed less space there was an opportunity.”

Ms Holmes said the centre created 700 jobs for the area when it opened and there is office space above each of the shops.

Work is also underway to build 118 homes behind the Aldi supermarket to the rear of the site and Iceland will be the latest retailer to join the development in the coming months.

Ms Holmes said: "Stocksbridge is a unique place I don’t think it’s ever felt part of Sheffield or part of Barnsley – it’s its own town in its own way.

“It’s got its own identity that was carved through the steelworks. People are very resilient and very passionate about saving saving what they have got - hence, the response with the leisure centre.”

Fox Valley also played its part in showcasing Stocksbridge to the world when the area played host to the Tour de Yorkshire in April 2017.

And, again, it was the community spirit that is so evident in these parts, which made sure Stocksbridge was looking its best.

The Steel Valley Project has helped keep Stocksbridge, Bradfield and the Upper Don looking their best for 30 years, while improving access to the great outdoors there for residents and visitors.

The Steel Valley Project’s work is all part of the aim to turn the town that made umbrellas into a hub of the new Outdoor City economy.

The initial investment in the project came from the valley’s steelworks, who launched the tree planting scheme in the 1980s, initially on the factory’s non-operational’ land on the edge of the old Samuel Fox industrial complex.

Project teams go out every weekday, and new helpers are always welcome. Potential new volunteers don’t need to have any existing skills or experience in countryside work since training is provided.

For more information visit www.steelvalleyproject.org