Telegraph Debate: Does Sheffield offer a good environment to raise a family?

'˜Sense of community is key - but house prices are an issue'Lucy Morley, mother of three young children, works at Good Taste, Broomhill

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 8th June 2017, 11:26 am
Updated Thursday, 8th June 2017, 11:26 am
STOCK: Sheffield housing.
STOCK: Sheffield housing.

I was brought up in Sheffield, had my three children here, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

I was really surprised to read that Sheffield is number 30 out of 35 cities ranked on scale of the best cities in which to raise children. The community we live in is friendly and feels safe. We are up the road from an amazing park, the school my children attend is fantastic, not to mention the fact that we are five minutes’ drive from the city centre and 10 minutes from the Peak District.

keith bown [mailto:[email protected]] Sent: 09 May 2010 19:12 To: Star News Subject: Botanical Gardens Sheffield. Hi Could you advise me if this is the right email address to send photos to be shown in the star. Best Regards Keith Bown.

The main drawback of where I live is house prices. We were lucky and bought our house a few years ago before the area was such a ‘hotspot’, but our house is small and we wonder how we will ever be able to afford to buy a bigger house and stay in this area.

House prices have soared, and although this is good for us as sellers it makes the prospect of buying something bigger pretty unlikely. Our house is great though, and what it lacks in space it definitely makes up for in location.

Life is very rosy here in West Sheffield, which makes me wonder what it must be like to live in other parts of Sheffield, where perhaps the schools aren’t so great, the parks not so green or the streets so safe. Would I be as surprised at Sheffield’s low score if I didn’t live where I live? Possibly not.

In my work at Good Taste, the Sheffield Fair Trade Shop, we are committed to improving the lives of people in poverty in far-flung corners of the world through fair payment for their work and investment in their communities.

keith bown [mailto:[email protected]] Sent: 09 May 2010 19:12 To: Star News Subject: Botanical Gardens Sheffield. Hi Could you advise me if this is the right email address to send photos to be shown in the star. Best Regards Keith Bown.

Perhaps we also need to be thinking about supporting those children who live in poverty in our own city for whom life is not fair, the many women who are trafficked on our doorstep and the hundreds who rely on foodbanks to feed their families and who probably don’t think Sheffield is such a great place to live.

Problems aside, there is something amazing about the community aspect of Sheffield and the various ‘villages’ that exist within a large city, which is unique and could well be the reason why so many people, including my parents, came here and wouldn’t dream of leaving.

‘I know in my heart that city is the best place’ Liz Dew, founder, Sheffield Hypnobirthing

I think Sheffield is a wonderful place to bring up a family. I am aware that I’m privileged in that we can afford to exercise a certain amount of choice about where we live, and so can choose from several good schools. We have a car which gives us easy access to all of the amazing parks and gardens in Sheffield, and to the Peak District. It must be very different to have little choice of where you live and less financial freedom.

But I have to admit I feel annoyed that a league table came to the conclusion that Sheffield isn’t a great place to bring up kids. The ranking seems to be based on stuff that I’m not sure entirely matters when bringing up a family. What about community? I moved here 11 years ago and one of the things that struck me about Sheffield is that so many people acknowledge each other and are happy to chat with strangers. It’s such a friendly city. I took my youngest out and about recently while the eldest was at school and lots of people smiled at us and chatted with us. I feel part of a community here. As the proverb goes, “It takes a village to raise a child” and Sheffield definitely often feels like a very big village, it’s uncanny how easy it is to bump into people you know here. Plus we have lots of friends who live within walking distance from our house. Surely that’s more important in raising kids than whether or not we have a mortgage?

Call me cynical, but I can only conclude that MoneySuperMarket came up with the idea of creating this league table to generate publicity, knowing it would get people talking and grab some headlines. It’s all very well for someone to sit at a desk and decide which factors make a city a good place to bring up kids, but it doesn’t mean anything to me. I trust my heart to decide what works for me and my family, and Sheffield has definitely captured that.

‘Areas are hit by cuts yet spirit is strong’ Fran Belbin, Pitsmoor Adventure Playground

I’m not too convinced by the Family Living Index – it makes no attempt to consider the views of real people living in families. Nevertheless, from the data it appears Sheffield performs badly as it does not have many ‘outstanding’ schools, has relatively high rates of crime and low levels of income.

When you take into account the inequalities across Sheffield – all the ‘outstanding’ secondaries are in Hallam for example – the picture is probably even bleaker for most of us living in the poorer areas. As a parent and worker at Pitsmoor Adventure Playground, I’m strongly aware services and activities for children and families in the city are reducing or accessible only to those who can afford them.

After years of austerity budgets, Sheffield City Council have barely any provision for children and families outside of statutory services. In Pitsmoor we’ve had to come together as community residents to keep resources open – the playground is now run by a charity and our local library only survives thanks to volunteers, for example, and both are constantly battling for funds to keep going.

The one area of the Family Living Index where Sheffield does perform well, access to parks and open spaces, is also under threat as budgets are slashed. At the same time schools that have converted to academies feel more like businesses. Of course other cities are facing the same pressures, and it’s not all doom and gloom. For most of us the quality of family life is about the communities we live in, about how much we can rely on our neighbours to help each other out, look after one another and to celebrate together.

The response of the people of Manchester to the horrific attack last month is one example of this; the thousands of community events across the country this month in memory of murdered MP Jo Cox are another. They demonstrate the human qualities that really contribute to family life far more than a house price index. As a proud member of my own community I have no plans to leave Sheffield in search of a better life.

‘The rich and poor remain very divided’ Jon Curtis, solicitor

I’ve lived in many different cities and quite a few countries and loved my time there, but when it comes to bringing up a family, Sheffield offers something special. There aren’t many UK city dwellers who get the mix of urban and countryside that we Sheffielders enjoy. My kids are aged 10 and 12 and love being outdoors. Even at their age, they value the local countryside and the city’s countless opportunities for exploring outdoor life.

A few months ago, we all swam in the Derwent near Curbar – let’s say it was refreshing! From our house, we can walk through Ecclesall Woods, on to the Limb Valley and out to the Norfolk Arms at Ringinglow for a coffee and a bacon sandwich.

Our favourite walk over the years has been the trek from the café in Endcliffe Park through to Forge Dam, where we always have an ice cream. We’ve lived in Walkley, Crookes, Nether Edge and now Ecclesall and have been really fond of all the places we’ve lived in.

The kids have always loved the city’s parks. We have spent many happy hours in the Bole Hills and in Chelsea Park in Nether Edge. I can’t speak for all the schools in Sheffield but the ones we have experience of – our kids go to Ecclesall Juniors and Silverdale – are excellent. In particular, we’ve been hugely impressed by Silverdale and the effort they make for the kids.

Sheffield has a vibrant Christian and church scene. We go to a fantastic church on Ecclesall Road called the Well. The kids love it and have some really great friends there. Realistically, though, your opinion of how Sheffield rates in comparison to other UK cities depends on which part you live in. We are in Sheffield Hallam, a privileged part of the city. And I think Sheffield’s biggest problem is the divide that exists between its richer and poorer areas.

Perhaps that is true of our entire country at the moment, but my hope for Sheffield would be that the gap lessens, to the benefit of all.