Heritage award nod for wheel volunteers

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Volunteers who brought a piece of Sheffield’s industrial history back to life hope a heritage prize will put it on the national map.

The Friends of Porter Valley group is in the running for a prestigious award from English Heritage for the complex restoration of the water-powered Shepherd Wheel over 10 years.

Around 30,000 people a year have visited the 16th century knife-grinding workshop in Whiteley Woods since it was officially unveiled in 2012 – three times the number it was originally expected to attract.

And now supporters hope winning the English Heritage Angel award could broaden the attraction’s appeal even further.

Ann Le Sage, group chairman, said: “We are overjoyed to be nominated.

“This is an award aimed at celebrating the work of volunteers and we have worked about a decade on this, from the very beginning when we were trying to persuade the council and industrial museums’ trust to work with us to raise the money for the work.

“There is no money in this award, but it will put Sheffield, the mill, and volunteering here, on the map.

“Shepherd Wheel may get busier as a result, and it is already busier at weekends than the project team ever expected when they launched the restoration.

“It is nearly three times the expected footfall.”

Heritage chiefs have shortlisted the group in the category for ‘best rescue of a historic industrial building or site’.

Members of English Heritage can vote for the group to win the award – out of four finalists – on the organisation’s website.

Ann urged people to get behind the group’s nomination. She added: “Sheffield should be proud of this museum.

“I think it is the best museum in Sheffield.

“It is a moving piece of machinery.

“You look at it and you can see how people lived and laboured 200 years ago.

“Most museums are static, this one isn’t.

“It is a piece of living history.

“What is exceptional is we are getting 25,000 to 30,000 people coming through every 12 months.

“This is a site just off a road, you can’t park there, but people are walking into the woods to see it.

“It is free entry, with the wheel run by volunteers and engineers from the trust, so it is a unique offering and people are taking it up.

“If you look at the faces of people and children when they are visiting they are just amazed.”

Almost 200 entries from across the country were received for the Angel awards.

Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber – whose charitable foundation helps to fund the awards – will be on a panel of judges deciding the final winners.

Votes for the English Heritage prize can be made until midnight on Sunday, September 8.

The winners will then be unveiled at a ceremony in London in October.

* Visit English Heritage to vote.

Ancient site educates children on heritage

Hundreds of water-powered metal working workshops once thrived along Sheffield’s rivers.

Shepherd Wheel is now the only example.

During the week schoolchildren from across the city visit to learn about their heritage and watch the wheel in motion with staff from Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust.

They discover how two grinding workshops were powered by the wheel using water diverted from the River Porter, and how the earliest record of it dates back to 1584.

At weekends it becomes a popular stop for walkers, and is run by volunteers. They started campaigning to save the site 10 years ago and in 2007 fundraising began.

A partnership with Sheffield Council and Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust was also forged.

A £500,000 grant from English Heritage kickstarted work to clear the site and volunteers overcame many obstacles to complete it. Although the wheels turned again in 2011, work to maintain the site still continues.

The Friends group has 500 members. Recruits can attend an open evening on August 7 at Bents Green Chapel from 7.30pm.