‘Use them or lose them’ warning over Sheffield’s community buildings, as bingo club appeals for new players
It’s eyes down in Hackenthorpe, but look up and you’ll see it’s far from a full house for the weekly bingo session.
The Friday afternoon get-together has been a fixture on this Sheffield suburb’s social calendar for years, but numbers have dwindled to such an extent that 86-year-old Brian Platts is the last remaining male player.
When I visit, there are just 10 people crouched over their cards, with dabbers poised, at the old Hackenthorpe & Birley Tenants & Community Association building tucked away off Main Street, on Hutton Croft.
Brian wouldn’t mind a bit of male company, but there’s a serious issue at stake.
If more people don’t take advantage of buildings like these, which are available for anyone to hire, it’s feared their number could be up.
At a time of growing concern about social isolation, such spaces could be at the forefront of combating loneliness and bringing communities closer.
But too often they’re sitting empty for much of the week and the events they do host attract only a handful of people – making them potentially an easy target for cash-strapped councils looking to balance the books.
It should be noted there’s no threat to this particular venue, which stands across the road from The Sportsman pub.
The council-owned building is well maintained, and highly valued by those who do use it, but they would love to have more bums on seats for the bingo and Wednesday coffee afternoons - and they’re keen to see more events there too.
Irene Mobley, 92, who has been a regular at the bingo for years, said: “We used to get around 20 people but we’re struggling for numbers these days. Some people have sadly died, some are now housebound, and we’re not getting many new players along.
“It’s good fun. It gets you out and gets the blood pressure up. We’d like to have more people, and I’m sure there are plenty out there who would enjoy it.”
Audrey Bluff, 85, remembers the venue hosting more events, including jumble sales and keep-fit classes, as well as being the base for the now-defunct tenants association.
“If it’s only us using it and we’re not getting any younger there's always the fear it could close, which would be a big loss to the community,” she said.
“I don't think people realise that if they’re not using the building, it could be lost.”
Brian is a relative newcomer to the bingo, having only started playing after moving into one of the neighbouring bungalows three years ago
But the ex-miner and steelworker said he remembered using the venue many years ago when it was a reading room with a full-sized snooker table.
“There aren’t many of us and it would be nice to have another fella, but it’s not a problem. We’ll keep playing,” he said.
His partner, Mary Littlewood, said: “There are a lot of people living round here on their own, and this is a good place to meet, so it’s a shame it’s not being used more.
“Since the working men’s club was demolished near the shops on Main Street, there are not a lot of places local pensioners can go to socialise, and some can only walk short distances.”
Hackenthorpe Community Centre is just a short stroll away at the old library building on Four Wells Drive, and has a larger hall which can accommodate up to 100 people.
It has a relatively bustling calendar of activities, from lunch clubs and coffee mornings to belly dancing and yoga classes – and many of the bingo crowd are regulars there, too.
Beighton ward councillor Ian Saunders said the neighbourhood was fortunate in being relatively blessed with meeting spaces, which also include a youth centre and church halls which are available for hire.
But he believes some like the Hutton Croft community room, where he holds monthly surgeries, could be better used.
“It’s underutilised, as are a lot of community rooms around Sheffield and elsewhere, but I don’t believe it’s ever been that well used,” he said.
“I would love to see it full day all day, every day, but I can’t think of many buildings for which that’s true.
“You could have coffee mornings and other activities there but it’s a case of getting the volunteers to run things these days.
“There’s a review going on in terms of how to better market them and get more people in.”
Coun Saunders added that there were small funding pots available for people wanting to hold new events or publicise existing ones, and he urged them to get in touch with their councillors to see if they could help.