Sunday at Bill's Mother's: 11th Feb 2024
Origins of The Outdoor City. Watercourse wizardry that keeps 💩 off the streets. Condensed 'What's On Out There' listings. More walking wobbles.
Morning. You never know what you’ll be getting when you open Sheffield’s Sunday notpaper. Today we’re looking at storm drains and dragonflies, keeping 💩 off the streets and foraging for water cress just off Sheffield Parkway.
After the alarming news that our city’s £140,000 branding contract has been sent down to London, we also have the home grown origins of the Outdoor City title.
And following the success of the historical hits of the 90s campaign by our local digital media big sister to grow their paying readership from 1990 up to their 2000 target, I’m launching our own version of the year-based marketing strategy as we edge close to our own target of 200 paying readers. (Just 15 more of you needed to become a sustainable social enterprise, ready to cover lots more stuff).
Unfortunately there were no known Britpop hits in the 2nd century AD, but I can tell you that in 185 it was recorded that a supernova (actually a ‘guest star half the size of a bamboo mat’) was sighted by Emperor Lo-Yang of China.
What more encouragement do you need to tick the ‘Ok then, I’ll stump up a few quid’ box and then learn what happened in 190?
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Find Your Heart’s Ease Here
I’d like to say I was there at the birth of the Outdoor City, but I’d be wrong, as generations before me have been singing, shouting and writing their praises of our wild countryside, long before It’s Looking A Bit Black Over Bill’s Mother’s turned up.
The redoubtable Sheffield Tribune covered the baffling award of a £140,000 ‘sell Sheffield to the wider world’ contract to a bunch of London marketeers last week. Victoria Munro’s post for Tribune members also noted the arrival of the Outdoor City label in 2016, which appears to be doing quite well without much funding at all.
So it seems only right for the city’s outdoor magazine to add to the debate. The point is, the Outdoor City title grew from below, and was never foisted upon us by ambitious councillors or well-paid southerners.
We’ll never know if ‘Sheffield: The Outdoor City’ was a phrase coined by the working class Sheffielders who began the countryside access movement, long before the famous media - friendly Kinder Trespass of 1932.
After a walk around Kinder Scout by 14 men and women from Sheffield in 1900, the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers’ Club was founded by the legendary GHB Ward, who coined a tagline probably worth hundreds of guineas at the time: “Do troubles and sorrows and worries press on you unduly? Then go and find these woods and hills and moors, and find your heart’s ease there,” he wrote in the Clarion handbooks.
In centuries past, local steelworkers and secretaries fought for our footpaths and did their best to sell the notion of getting outside into the local countryside for the physical and mental health of their fellow urban citizens.
Early this century, council officers and outdoor campaigners and businesses began counting the many millions of annual pounds the city derived from its growing outdoors industry.
Climbers had long claimed Sheffield was the nation’s climbing capital, and walkers said the same about rambling. A few years ago, our always eloquent mountain biking community began telling its own media that Sheffield was the UK’s MTB capital. Then the impending 2014 Tour De France et Yorkshire hit the news, and we began claiming the road cycling capital title too.
In the summer of 2013, I was listening to a handful of thoughtful outdoor folk expounding on these ideas. We were lounging on the summer grass of Graves Park, possibly after having a drink or two, while the year’s Cliffhanger Outdoors Festival kerchinged around us.
Unmollycoddled kids naturally make use of what’s on their doorstep, said one east Sheffielder, recalling his youth. And in Sheffield, that’s lots of parks and woodlands for dens and climbing.
Then they explore further, and visitors such as students are astounded by the hills and valleys we Sheffielders take for granted, and stay, and start businesses in climbing and biking or maybe wild swimming.
Around that time, ten years ago, outdoors folk famous and humble were throwing the ‘Outdoor Capital’ phrase around. I gather it took a few pub visits and a day at the Foundry climbing centre for someone (not sure who, but take a look at the credits of the accompanying video) to officially change that to The Outdoor City before presenting the idea to the council, for nowt. And it stuck.
Let’s see what the marketing team from the flatlands of London come up with. But for me, the Outdoor City title makes sense, because it came from the city itself, and also because it’s true.
* As noted previously, self-promotion doesn’t sit well with South Sheffielders. But if anyone happens to have access to the Sheffield Telegraph archives of 2013 they may find a piece with my name on it including the term The Outdoor City. The newspaper cost just over £1.
We tend not to think too hard about what happens in the deep pipes under our cities, after we flush our toilets or the latest rainstorm washes off our roads and rooftops. But we really should, says Roger Nowell, known by some as the SUDSman, whose official title is the city council’s Natural Flood and Water Management Coordinator.
He’s brought me to see a picturesque pond at the lower end of the Manor estate, near Pipworth recreation ground, hidden by trees from the junction of Sheffield and Mosborough parkways 200 yards away.
There are ducks pairing up ready for the spring, and reed beds and flag irises, and on a nearby outlet from the lake, locals come in the summer and harvest water cress.
Nearby, there’s a tiny pool nestling in a huge grassy depression in the ground. You’d overlook it if you were passing, but Roger doesn’t. What he’s seeing around that pool is a 6,000 cubic metres surface water storage facility that will help reduce flooding in the lower Don Valley.
A few months ago I met Roger at Manor Fields Park, along with a crowd of excited green space professionals from the National Trust, who’d travelled to the Manor to learn how to do sustainable urban drainage schemes, or SUDS.
He and staff from park managers Green Estate showed how the park itself collects dirty surface water off nearby roads, and cleans it via reeds, plants and magical (to me) microorganisms that help break down oil and hydrocarbons. The ponds and their plants also capture pollution like oil spills and specks of rubber and metal from car tyres and brakes, and keep them out of the river far below.
Wet parks or green spaces bring in all kinds of biodiversity too. SUDS on the Manor attract butterflies, birds and dragonflies, and I hear a rare relative of the common Grey Heron, a Bittern, may have dropped in for a few days a year or two ago.
The Grey To Green scheme in the city centre is also a SUDS, retrofitted to help clean surface water and reduce flooding from city streets, as well as prettifying the city centre. It’s won praise from around the UK for its aesthetic qualities, says Roger.
And then he tells me the details of the problem underground. When Sheffield grew into a big industrial city, drainage was mainly about public health.
“Keeping shit off the streets, was the aim,” he explains. So city engineers of years past built combined sewers with foul water (from toilets) and surface run off (from roads and rooftops) mixed together. In many cases, we’re still living above those unsavoury combined sewers.
But if we can keep surface run off out of combined sewers using SUDS, there’s more chance of sewage staying under our streets, and not popping up again in our rivers.
The spectacular Manor Fields park hides small ponds and drainage channels among meadows and a mixture of wild and planted flowers, with rocks and small cascades giving park visitors the impression they’re strolling through a semi wild environment, full of nature. And they are.
But more practically, their park is taking dirty water off the roads and rooftops of nearby estates, and dealing with much of its pollution and flood risk by storing and cleaning it in the landscape itself.
This spring the park will also have a brand new pond, a small lake really, that’s being dug out and landscaped now. The government have already asked for developers to build in a 30% extra capacity in SUDS for the increased risk of extreme weather due to climate change, and Sheffield is already raising that capacity to 40%.
“It’s likely society will have to cope with more of what we call exceedance events,” says Roger, “where drainage systems, even those that are built recently, can get overwhelmed.”
The new pond on Manor Fields will be part of that capacity. In drier times it will be wet ground, where wildlife will flourish. And after heavy rain, it will be a lake.
Developers have to cost in the price of dealing with all that increasing rainwater in their building plans. Most think only of pipes, says Roger, but in many cases, a SUDS scheme of ponds, surface drainage channels and big grassy bowls that serves several nearby developments can work out much cheaper than building underground storage tanks and pipes, particularly if your hilly site means you have to drill into bedrock.
In general, SUDS are a win on every level, he says: apart from dealing with surface water, they reduce flooding and pollution, improve biodiversity, people like them because they look nice, and quite often they’re cheaper, particularly if we find a way of factoring in all those extra benefits.
But they do need maintenance, like cleaning and removing silt, a cost that can be recovered in a lump sum from the developers in some cases. To make sustainable urban drainage genuinely sustainable in the long run, should that maintenance charge appear on our water bills?
Roger notes that water companies already include a charge for surface water: if the bill payer is serviced by a SUDS scheme, paying for that could be cheaper than the current surface water bill.
So should we try and persuade the water companies to forego that surface water charge, when the local park is actually doing their water management job for them, as well as helping to address the ‘Why are you dumping sewage in our rivers?’ outrage.
We now have over 60 SUDS schemes across Sheffield, but Roger wants more developers to think of them first, rather than boring pipes in the ground.
In a natural environment, Roger says the landscape itself deals with around 95% of most rainfall events, in its grasses, through evaporation, or by rain soaking into the earth, with the rainfall never reaching nearby rivers. And natural drainage schemes are trying to mimic that effect.
“Nature doesn’t bury water in pipes,” he says.
The UK Walking Summit is on its way, but meanwhile I hear that local planning and footpath decisions are still shooting ourselves in the foot.
A new development off Penistone Road looks set to bite into a walking and cycling route with a wide new access road for cars and trucks. (How do walkers and wheelers get round it? Has anyone thought?)
Meanwhile I hear the much lauded Attercliffe Waterside eco-developers seem to believe that the key route for people into the site under their own steam (the canal towpath) doesn’t need a penny spending on it to remedy the crumbling ‘Can I get there without falling over?’ path that’s currently in action.
While up the road in Stocksbridge, campaigners have a petition running asking the Stocksbridge Town Deal board why the Upper Don Trail additions, the Little Don River protections and several other projects have been dropped without explanation in favour of a rebuild of the 1970s library.
Selected What’s On Out There (from Sun 11th Feb)
This is a small sample for this week taken from our full regularly updated listings service in Round at Bill’s Mother’s. If you’re in a group who put on outdoor events and want me to include them, please stick them in the comments below as follows: Date, What it is, Online link.
Sun 11th - Chinese Lunar New Year Lion Dance (city centre)
Mon 12th - Fri 16th - Daily health walks in parks and green spaces from Step Out Sheffield, 10 am start
Tues 13th Sheffield Ramblers Walk - Whirlow to Hunters Bar (6m - meet Snig Hill bus stops)
Weds 14th Sheffield Ramblers Walk - Bakewell (10m - meet bus station)
Weds 14th - Social Walk from Longshaw (5m)
Thurs 15th - Finding Lost Norton Park at Graves Park - Recording winter birds walk
Fri 16th - SRWT Volunteer Work Day - Woodhouse Washlands
Sat 17th - Conservation Session at Parkwood Springs
Sun 18th - Sheffield Mass Cycle Ride, from Tudor Square
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