Why people, as well as places, are at the heart of Sheffield's heritage for community champion

Celebrating a city's heritage is not merely confined to touring old buildings - and a search to find Sheffield's unsung heroes has demonstrated the fact perfectly.

Tuesday, 9th January 2018, 2:10 pm
Updated Tuesday, 9th January 2018, 4:45 pm
Since Liz and the Sheffield Civic Trust took over the city's Heritage Open Days, the number of events held locally has more than doubled. Picture: Glenn Ashley

Liz Godfrey, of Endcliffe, is the second winner in The Moor Pride in Sheffield Community Champion Awards.

Nominated by friend Joy Bullivant, Liz is a co-ordinator of the city's Heritage Open Days, an annual programme that has rapidly grown in popularity since she took the helm with fellow volunteers.

The number of individual happenings has more than doubled since 2015 as new groups, societies and enthusiasts have become involved, with nearly 120 events taking place last year.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Libraries, parks, schools, churches and businesses specialising in traditional crafts all take part, as well as novel places with an offbeat take on where heritage lies. Bringing people together, and uniting different sections of the city, is the common thread.

"It adds to social cohesion because you find odd places and bits of Sheffield you've never been to, and mosques and different faith places open up," said Liz.

"It's also good to put different groups in contact with each other. We manage to get people who are in buildings near each other becoming good neighbours.

"We've also become a bit of a hub, or helpline. Some groups phone us up and say 'We need to get funds for this, that and the other, how do we go about it?'"

Heritage Open Days has been running nationally for 25 years, but the Sheffield Civic Trust, which Liz is a board member of, took over locally five years ago.

"Nobody was organising it before then, it was a bit ad hoc. We just thought it was right that in a city of this size we made a concerted effort. We decided we'd give it a sub-committee, and that's how it started."

Liz, 72, has had a varied career. She worked as a teacher, ran a small catering company and had a job in the haberdashery department at John Lewis. She has two grown-up children, and two grandchildren. Before coming to Sheffield she lived in London, and both her parents were refugees from Germany, escaping the Holocaust before World War Two broke out in 1939.

"I was brought up in the knowledge that you give back to your city," she said.

There are six volunteers on Sheffield's Heritage Open Days committee, with Liz and Louise Watt acting as lead co-ordinators. Louise helps community groups to become more active on social media.

"A lot of participants are not in their youth and it doesn't come as second nature, all this stuff."

The open days receive little outside support - the council's assistance extends to finding space for a banner outside the Town Hall, said Liz.

"A lot of people don't know we exist. I think it's because we're not backed by any big names. It's a hard slog all the time. But we love doing it. All the small volunteer groups are all very enthusiastic and that carries over to the people who visit them. We get a feeling of joy out of it by getting them all together and showcasing their places.

"People in Sheffield just love their heritage, even young people, and we have visitors from abroad. They come and find out about these places that are not on the tourist map."

Preparations are being made for this year's programme in September. One of the themes will be 'extraordinary women', linking with the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act.

Nominating Liz, Joy praised her 'breathtaking energy'. "She has almost single-handedly promoted Sheffield up the heritage rating into the top four in the core cities from nowhere."

The Star is working with Aberdeen Asset Management, which owns The Moor. Through its charity foundation, the firm will give every winner £250 towards their cause. Liz will also get a prize from one of The Moor's businesses, and her photo will be featured on a special poster.

Amanda Phillips, centre manager for The Moor, said: “Heritage Open Days are a great way for communities to celebrate, preserve and share information about our past and ensure that these places and buildings are part of our future. Encouraging and co-ordinating volunteers is hard work and Liz Godfrey is a worthy recipient of our next Moor Pride in Sheffield Community Champion award."

Visit www.heritageopendays.org.uk for details.