Working together to make 'village in a city' Chapeltown 'magical'

Chapeltown, Sheffield.
Chapeltown, Sheffield.
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Chapeltown briefly hit the national headlines this year when Nigel Farage narrowly avoided a tree branch as his open-top bus tour passed through.

As part of the East Ecclesfield ward, it was one of three areas to elect a Ukip city councillor earlier this year - the other two were neighbouring West Ecclesfield, and Stocksbridge and Upper Don.

Nigel Farage ducks to avoid a tree branch in Chapeltown.

Nigel Farage ducks to avoid a tree branch in Chapeltown.

But look beyond party politics and there is a sense of togetherness in a place that feels less like a city suburb and much more like a village.

Chapeltown sits roughly seven miles from Sheffield city centre, Rotherham and Barnsley. It was a hamlet on the junction between the Sheffield to Barnsley and Rotherham roads, before industrialisation in the 19th century brought coal and ironstone pits, and an influx of workers.

Chapel Furnace and later the nearby Thorncliffe Ironworks, run by the Newton Chambers Company, provided employment for many Chapeltown residents - particularly through the world wars, when engineers build hundreds of tanks there.

Ecclesfield Parish Council chairman Kath Granger has lived in Chapeltown with her husband Barry for 60 years. She has seen plenty of people and businesses come and go, but thinks the community spirit has largely endured.

Ecclesfield Parish Council chairman Kath Granger and Labour city councillor for Shiregreen and Brightside Garry Weatherall.

Ecclesfield Parish Council chairman Kath Granger and Labour city councillor for Shiregreen and Brightside Garry Weatherall.

"I wouldn't live anywhere else," she said. "It's a good area."

The Grangers, like many Chapeltown residents, suffered when the steelworks and pits began to close under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. Barry was one of thousands to be left without work.

"Some people still haven't got jobs, and it's 30 years since they got made redundant," said Kath, who used to run the soup kitchen for striking miners.

But Chapeltown is by no means a ghost town. There are plenty of shops and businesses - including national names such as Subway and JD Wetherspoon - and although the big Asda has taken away some of the traditional greengrocers and fishmongers, the lunchtime queue outside butcher John Crawshaw proves there is still room for local firms to prosper.

Chapeltown, Sheffield.

Chapeltown, Sheffield.

The area has, like many in South Yorkshire, felt the effect of both city council and central government cuts in recent years. Rather than curse their luck, the people of Chapeltown have come together to work on a variety of community projects.

The Friends of Chapeltown Park, for example, have funded a play area and outdoor gym. And the parish council has pledged £600,000 over 25 years towards the new Thorncliffe Health and Leisure Centre, which replaced the old Chapeltown Baths in June.

Another community-led project is the Chapel Green Advice Centre, which offers similar services to Citizens Advice, but with one difference - all its staff are volunteers.

Mick Appleby has been giving up his time at the centre for nine years. His passion is helping people, and while Chapeltown is not the most deprived area of Sheffield, there are still plenty of people in need.

Mick Appleby, a volunteer at Chapel Green Advice Centre.

Mick Appleby, a volunteer at Chapel Green Advice Centre.

"Debt is the main problem," he said. "That's getting busier and busier. I have personally got about 80 debt cases.

"A close second is benefits. They are the main two that cause people the most problems."

The centre lost all its council funding in 2012, and has had to rely on donors since. But it has found a way to survive and carry on helping people.

"We get repeat clients so we must be doing something right," said Mick.

Many of the older generation in Chapeltown came to work at the steelworks and the mines, and stayed when they shut. They have seen the high street change and the old picture house close, but there is plenty to appeal to the younger generation.

Dental nurse Kathryn Handzell, 30, has lived in the area all her life. She used to work elsewhere, but this year returned to Chapeltown.

Chapeltown Park.

Chapeltown Park.

"I quite like it here. It's got a bit of everything," she said. "There are plenty of places to eat, cafes and bars.

"There aren't so many shops - it has got the supermarket but I can't say I use the rest. I still use Meadowhall."

Kathryn doesn't have children but said she would have no problem starting a family in Chapeltown.

One thing that may in the past have put families off living in the area was the lack of an academic sixth form. That changed in 2014 when Chapeltown Academy, a free school, opened its doors.

After two years in temporary locations, the school moved into a permanent home in August, shortly after celebrating a 99.1 per cent pass rate in its first A-level year.

Headteacher Ali Jaffer said despite initial opposition from some quarters, demand from parents for the school was strong. And growing student numbers - up from 56 in the first year to 137 the second, and almost 190 this year - proved the need for the school.

"Anecdotally, a lot of people have said they are so glad we are here, and they don't need to get two busses to get to school any more," he said.

"We are doing as much as possible to welcome in as many people as we can.

"Now we have our own building, we have got facilities which the community can use. There is the sports hall, a very nice dining hall which can double up as a conference room.

"We want to bring people in as much as possible."

Chapeltown resident John Booker is still proud of the fact he was Sheffield's first Ukip city councillor when he was elected in neighbouring West Ecclesfield 2014. Although he shares many views with former party leader Nigel Farage, he admits he differs on several matters with Ukippers 'down south'. And he is ready to put aside party allegiance if it helps his neighbourhood.

"I have been round to speak to an old lady targeted by criminals," he said. "She said she could sleep better at night because I had been round.

"That was a genuine attempt to help an old lady. It's what we should be doing."

John also helped set up the nearby boxing gym at Thorncliffe Community Sports Bar, run by Paul Watson.

And while he may not agree with his rivals in the theatre of the council chamber, his ward comes first.

"The West Ecclesfield councillors work together well. Party politics take a back seat," he said.

"We have cleaned the parks up. That was cross party. And we will do the same wherever it is needed."

He added: "Chapeltown is a wonderful area. It's magical."

A previous version of this story mistakenly said Chapeltown was in the West Ecclesfield ward. We are happy to correct the error.

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Ukip Sheffield city councillor for West Ecclesfield John Booker.

Ukip Sheffield city councillor for West Ecclesfield John Booker.

The old Chapeltown Baths, which is due to be knocked down.

The old Chapeltown Baths, which is due to be knocked down.