Exciting times for one of Sheffield's most 'vibrant' and 'diverse' areas - spotlight on Sharrow

The team at Regather
The team at Regather
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These are exciting times for Sharrow.

Ambitious plans have just been unveiled to transform a historic mansion into a huge social hub, the Sharrow Festival is almost upon us and work is afoot to brighten up one of its biggest estates with an edible garden.

The Old Junior School

The Old Junior School

These are just some of the projects taking shape in the area, wedged between the foodies' paradise of London Road and the cosmopolitan shopping district along Ecclesall Road.

Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of all that's happening is how much is being driven by people living there, who are stepping up to fill the gaps where they think more could be provided.

Regather, at the foot of Club Garden Road, in the shadows of the Leverton Gardens tower blocks, is a case in point.

The trading cooperative working out of an old cutlers' factory was founded in 2010 by what Gareth Roberts, the operations manager, describes as a 'group of people with some skills, ideas and shared values'.

Jonathan Roberts, of Sharrow Community Forum

Jonathan Roberts, of Sharrow Community Forum

Today it runs or hosts a multitude of activities, and provides advice and support to help fledgling firms and social enterprises get off the ground, especially those within the catering or events industry.

Gigs, film screenings, quizzes and comedy nights take place upstairs, which can also be hired for everything from birthdays to wakes, and a bar has recently opened for after-work drinks from 4pm-8pm on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

Downstairs, veg boxes with largely locally-grown produce are packed each week for the 200-odd subscribers to collect, and there is a microbrewery which Gareth proudly declares is Sheffield's joint smallest.

Outside, the fruits of their labours are literally bursting forth from the fruit trees, planters and edible hedgerows they have planted, which they hope to extend among the flats of the neighbouring Lansdowne estate.

Liz O'Neill at the Old School Cafe

Liz O'Neill at the Old School Cafe

"Sharrow's very diverse, which is reflected on London Road, where you can eat your way around the world," says Gareth.

"There's a strong community which comes from a combination of your local residents and the transient student, refugee and asylum seeker population. Events like the Sharrow Festival epitomise that community spirit."

Regather, which also organises events around the city, including open-air theatre coming soon to Sheffield Botanical Gardens and St Mary's Church on Bramall Lane, is inspired by the history of Sharrow and of the building it organises.

Gareth explains how the area was an agricultural hamlet known as 'Little Sheffield', and after the industrial revolution arrived it continued to feed the city's growing population thanks to the Club Gardens - 50 acres of allotments run by local residents, which give the road its name.

Charley's Pantry

Charley's Pantry

That's the reason behind the focus on food and sustainable living, explains Gareth, while the building where Sheffield's little mesters once plied their trade is the inspiration for supporting business start-ups and social enterprises today.

Up the road is another venue given a new lease of life by resourceful locals - the Old Junior School.

Since Sharrow Junior and Infants School closed around a decade ago, it has been run by Sharrow Community Forum as a space for everyone in the neighbourhood to use.

It hosts everything from yoga sessions to Quran classes, and is home to groups including Sheffield City Boxing Club, which has produced numerous county and national champions.

Jonathan Roberts, partnership manager for the forum, which also runs Highfield Adventure Playground in nearby Mount Pleasant Park, explains how it strives to listen to what local people want and help them effect changes themselves.

A couple of years ago, a serious rise in antisocial behaviour culminated in three police officers being injured as they clashed with louts hurling fireworks.

Mount Pleasant

Mount Pleasant

The forum responded by bringing young people together with their parents and members from all sections of the community in what Jonathan calls a 'safe space' where people could talk freely about what could be done to help people reclaim the streets.

One of the results was an autumn carnival launched last year, which he believes played a part in significantly reducing antisocial behaviour around Halloween when it had previously flared.

He believes engaging with young people, bringing them together with those from all ages and backgrounds, and harnessing their creativity is paying dividends.

One example of this, he says, is the pilot project Made in Sharrow, for which young people have been designing and building everything from stools to go-karts using a hi-tech wood-cutting machine.

"If you talk to people from outside Sharrow they might have a concept that it's very rough but actually it's a really vibrant area," says Jonathan.

"There's a huge amount going on in terms of arts and the social scene. Our role is simply supporting people to achieve what they want rather than telling them what they need."

The Old Junior School is also home to the Old School Cafe, which is open to all and is run by Liz O'Neill, a former pupil at the school, and Kate Stevenson, an ex-dinner lady.

The menu is heavy on school dinner staples, from cheese flans to sponges, though Liz tells me the food is definitely better than that served up there when she was a girl.

A stone's throw away in Wostenholm Road is Charley's Pantry, where customers tell me they come as much for the banter as the butties.

Run by Alan Humphreys and his partner Jill Bedford, who is better known as 'Charley', former customers included a young Kyle Walker, who would go on to star for Sheffield United, Spurs and England.

"He used to order tuna mayo salad. He could hardly see over the counter then and we used to have to cut it into three. But look how he is now. He's a fabulous man," says Alan.

For many people the true heart of Sheffield is Mount Pleasant, an 18th century mansion on Sharrow Lane, which has been disused for many years.

As The Star revealed, the live-in guardians have put together £17m plans to transform the site into a social hub, with 200 flats, shops, offices and a community skills hub.

The guardians were busy trying to secure investment when we turned up but we popped into ShipShape, a health hub within the grounds which helps thousands of people each year.

Health project manager Tanya Basharat introduces me to members of the weekly breakfast club for people with mental health issues before explaining the vast amount of work it does to support people in Sharrow and other deprived neighbourhoods across Sheffield.

The centre, funded by the council and Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group, has grown from two volunteers when it formed a decade ago to nine employees now, and works with everyone from nightclubs to hairdressers to ensure no one misses out on the healthcare they need.

It seeks to address the huge health inequalities within the city by running everything from individual check-ups for people with long-term conditions to knitting groups and fitness sessions, but most of all by providing a welcoming place where people feel comfortable seeking help.

With ShipShape at the heart of plans for Mount Pleasant's future, Tanya tells me this is an exciting time to be in Sharrow.

"The beauty of Sharrow is its diversity and the way people mix without judging one another, and people here want to be a part of what's happening at Mount Pleasant," she says.

This year is the 20th anniversary of the Sharrow Festival, which will take place in Mount Pleasant Park on Saturday, July 1.

The annual celebration of music, food, sport and culture, reflecting the diverse make-up of the area, is the most eagerly anticipated day of the year for many locals.

Alan Buchanan, one of the organisers, says he 'fell in love' with the area's food, music scene and most of all its friendly inhabitants when he worked for the council at Mount Pleasant.

He describes the festival as like a holiday for everyone in the area, many of whom he says cannot afford overseas vacations.

"We have 5,000 people over the course of the day coming to the festival and we haven't had any violence for a long time," he says.

"If someone does start acting a bit leery, there's immediately somebody, maybe a cousin or an uncle, there to calm them down. It's self-policing."

The breakfast club at ShipShape

The breakfast club at ShipShape

Tanya Basharat outside ShipShape health centre

Tanya Basharat outside ShipShape health centre

Mount Pleasant Park, where the Sharrow Festival is held

Mount Pleasant Park, where the Sharrow Festival is held

Highfield Adventure Playground

Highfield Adventure Playground