ANDY Jackson surveys the sun setting over Heeley’s Millennium Park for a second before becoming visibly excited.
“We’ve had partridges and pheasants here,” he burbles. “Partridges and pheasants in what is essentially an inner city neighbourhood. That’s a big thing. We’re trying to create a mini Peak District here, and I think the park is moving in the right direction.”
Almost certainly it is.
But, then, as workmen prepare to start half a million pounds worth of improvements at the 12-year-old green space, few would argue otherwise.
Certainly the lad on his BMX would’t: “The new bike track is going to be sick,” he tells The Diary.
Neither would the old chap walking his dog. “I remember when it were all houses round here. Look at it now, green and glorious.”
All houses, it indeed once was. About 40 years ago to be exact. And then, when those terrace slums were knocked down in the 1970s, it remained a brown waste site for more than 20 years.
“It was like Tellytubbyland,” says Andy, manager with the Heeley Development Trust. “All mounds of earth and weeds.”
Only in 1999 was Millennium Park created by the then newly formed HDT, a community group which took control of the land from Sheffield Council after residents became convinced a green space would improve the area’s image and attract investment.
Then came a climbing boulder, play area and wild flower meadow and the green space has been thriving ever since.
Now a £500,000 National Lottery grant is set to transform the park beyond what even Heeley’s most hopeful resident probably ever thought possible.
Among the upgrades will be more boulders for climbers, a BMX track for bikers, adventure facilities for children, multi-use games area for teenagers and wild flower areas for people trying to spot that stray pheasant. There will also be a manicured Chinese garden, 1,800 new trees planted, improved lighting, and better road access to make events like Heeley Festival logistically easier.
Potentially, depending on the results of a feasibility study, it could also become the first park in the UK to have free wi-fi access.
“You can see the Peak Districts from up here,” says Thom White, who is managing the process and himself lives in nearby Albert Road. “What we’re trying to do is reflect it.”
“It’s been hard work because we want it to be a place for everyone and we want to get it right,” says Andy, who perhaps knows more than most about the area coming from a family which has lived here since 1736. “One of the things which makes it quite difficult is that there was almost an exact split between people who wanted the improvements to create more wild flower area and those who wanted more traditional park style lawns. So we have done the democratic thing and split it 50-50. It’s not a massive park but there was room for both.”
Following these improvements, set to be completed in autumn next year, HDT will turn its attention to the adjacent abandoned Anns Grove School, a Grade 2 listed building which the group has also taken off the council and plans to turn into an enterprise centre.
“It’s about making the area better,” says Andy, who lives in Meersbrook Road.
“The guys at The Sheaf View pub told us they opened as a direct result of the park opening in 1999. And last year Heeley Festival attracted 6,000 people here. That can only be good. Heeley hasn’t always had the best reputation but I think this park has helped turn that around.”
Certainly, it seems those partridges and pheasants would agree.