The Sheffield suburb ‘no one wants to leave’ after discovering its understated charms
On a mild winter’s afternoon, the sun is glinting off the pond and illuminating the sweeping views over Shirebrook Valley.
It’s easy to see why, as I’m repeatedly told, families rarely leave Frecheville after setting down roots in this peaceful suburb in south-east Sheffield.
The thriving volunteer-run library, bustling shopping parade, good schools, attractive green spaces and frequent buses into the city centre are undoubtedly part of the appeal.
But it’s the people who make this a special place to live, according to those I meet.
It's always hard to define what makes a community, but the way residents rallied to save their library from closure five years ago and continue to drive it from strength to strength shows what people here can achieve in the face of adversity.
However, it’s the more personal stories which perhaps illustrate even better the spirit within this tight-knit neighbourhood.
Pat Davey, who chairs Frecheville Royal British Legion, recalled how when her husband John died in 2012 she was blown away by the kindness of those on her street.
“When John was dying, my next-door neighbour but one told me she would keep her phone beside her bed and I could call her at any time if I needed her to drive me to the hospital.
"When the time came, she not only drove me there but stayed with me until after John had died and then drove me home.
"All my neighbours were so helpful at the time, which was wonderful because I never felt like I was on my own.
"People round here don't force themselves on you but they're always there for you and if something like that happens you know you can depend on them."
Pat loves living within easy reach of the city centre and the shops at Crystal Peaks, while being close to the countryside, and she says it is generally a tidy area, little troubled by vandalism or other anti-social behaviour.
But she believes it could do with more police, especially following a recent spate of car break-ins, to which she has twice fallen victim.
Frecheville Library is a hive of activity, with knitting, yoga, quiz nights and Lego-building sessions among an ever-expanding array of events hosted among the shelves.
Library manager Jo Ward said visitor numbers were on the rise and new books were being ordered to meet the demand from borrowers.
“It’s not a very quiet library but I don't think that’s a bad thing. Lots of people come in and are pleasantly surprised to find there’s a bit of atmosphere,” she said.
“We don’t lose sight of the fact we’re a library but we’re much more than that.”
Around the corner, Frecheville Community Centre is undergoing a renaissance, thanks largely to the efforts of Tracy Rodgers.
She runs an early years hub there, offering training for educators and sessions for young children, and is trying to get more people to use the building for everything from dance groups and karate classes to birthday parties.
“It used to be such a buzzing centre and I’m trying to bring back that buzz,” she said.
“We’ve had lots of interest and we’re getting to a point where the bookings calendar is quite full again, which is good.
“We're planning to hold a community day here in June and we’re seeking funding for new windows and fencing so we can create a community garden.”
Frecheville has two popular pubs, The Birley Hotel and The Sherwood, while The Frecheville pub which has been closed for years is up for auction later this month.
Its range of shops and places to eat includes the Remember When dementia-friendly cafe at Frecheville Community Sports Ground, a short stroll from the main drag on Birley Moor Road.
Featuring a memory wall and activities to get people talking, it has proved a popular addition since being opened two years ago by Ruth Bartles, who wanted more places for people like her grandmother Eileen to go.
Another recent addition is the memorial bench honouring those killed during the First World War, which was unveiled last year near the community centre, having been made from war memorial trees which were felled and replaced because they were badly diseased.
Birley ward councillor Denise Fox described Frecheville as a great place to live.
“There's a real sense of community. There are people who've lived there for a long time, and families tend to stay in the area if they can,” she said.
"You sense that people here feel they belong. They show a real interest on what's going on, and they will always stop to talk.
"People look out for each other too. I hear about people shopping for each other and the library has more than 40 volunteers.”
Frecheville has its problems, she conceded, but rarely do they prove insurmountable.
When youths began stealing wheelie bins last year and setting them alight in an area known as the Crags, near Jaunty Park, she says the community was quick to respond.
Councillors teamed up with police and the firefighters to visit local schoolchildren and highlight the potential consequences of their actions.
Not only did the arson stop but a new friends group was launched to tidy up the area, overgrown hedges were cut back and the previously little-used site became a popular spot for walkers.
Frecheville used to have a popular carnival, which Coun Fox revealed she and her fellow ward councillors are keen to revive, and she said there have also been talks about restoring the youth centre which was burned down by arsonists some years ago.
A common complaint among those in the area is that there could be more for children, especially older ones, to do.
There is a playground and a basketball court beside the pond but other courts there have been subsumed by weeds and many people would like to see them restored.
Frecheville could also do with more frequent buses to Crystal Peaks and to the GP surgery on Birley Lane, said Coun Fox.
And despite the best efforts of PSCO Roger Shalome, who is a popular figure in the community, some residents voiced concerns about a recent spike in burglaries.
But I’m left with the impression that most people here seem happy with their lot.
Jodie Turner and her four-year-old daughter Harley, whom I meet feeding the ducks on the pond, live in Hackenthorpe but are regular visitors to Frecheville.
“It’s a nice quiet area and there are some lovely walks around here,” said Jodie.
Christina Price, who is out walking her dog Tinker, tells me she moved from Parson Cross to Frecheville four years ago and feels right at home.
“I love it here. It’s so quiet, people are very friendly and you've got everything you could need to hand. I don't think I’d ever move away,” she said.