The Green Divide in Outdoor City Access: Sun 30th April
As viewed from the cemetery at World's End. Plus brief news, and what's on out there this week.
In the Sunday Supplement later tonight I’ll have a follow up to Friday’s story on bluebells with some positive news about the English variety, so hopefully see you later.
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Firstly, a heads up for Andrew Vickers fans, the sculptor and his chums are holding a free Woodland Makers Market at his Storrs Woodland site between Storrs and Stannington next extended weekend (Sunday 7th and Monday 8th).
There’ll be arts, sculpture, jewellery, coffee and cakes and demonstrations from Stoneface himself, along with Bohemian Woodcrafts wood turning and hedge layer Jasper Prachek and local wildlife discovery with Sheffield and Rotherham Wildife Trust.
Secondly, in other sculpture news, a troll appeared last week in Oxley Park in Stocksbridge. The menacing figure was carved and created by Stocksbridge sculptor Lorraine Botterill after local schoolchildren came up with the idea of a fierce troll guarding their local park, looking out over the Steel Valley.
The beast is part of a sculpture trail in the park, next to New Hall Wood, an ancient woodland. The trail and troll were funded by a £16,000 grant amassed by the Friends of Oxley Park group from a variety of sources.
Stocksbridge councillor Julie Grocutt said: “Local sculptor Lorraine Botterill has done an amazing job creating the Troll. It’s great to showcase local talent working with the Friends of Oxley Park bringing new attractions for our community to enjoy.” (Councillor Grocutt said nothing of the troll’s resemblance to any of her colleagues.)
The next step, said Vic Faulkner from Friends of Oxley Park, is to “create a legend’ about the troll, which is due to be named by local children by secret ballot. (Vic is hoping creativity and local common sense will not result in a ‘Trolly McTrollface’ type result).
People living north of Hillsborough will be aware of the region’s liking for stories of legendary beasts, not least the Dragon of Wantley. (Some say one of the dragon’s descendants still lurks in a hidden corner of Wharncliffe Forest.)
The fearsome 16th century dragon, commemorated in another carving on the park’s sculpture trail, was defeated in battle by the knight Moore of Moore Hall, who fatally kicked it in an anatomically vulnerable spot under its tail.
Vic aims to launch a competition where young people will be asked to write a story of the troll to become a North Sheffield legend for generations to come, maybe one day rivalling the gruesome tale of the Dragon of Wantley.
Thirdly, a few selected events for this week, including the Festival of Debate:
Mon 1st - Crabtree Ponds Volunteer Work Day with Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust
Tues 2nd - Future Agricultural Technologies: Technology, Tradition and the Farming Future - Festival of Debate online event
Tues 2nd / Thurs 4th - Mega Mulching tree care events in Totley with the Sheffield Council community foresters
Weds 3rd - Shirebrook Valley Nature Reserve - Walk and Talk morning for families
Thurs 4th - Walking Tour: People and Places (the plaques in Sheffield city centre) from Sheffield Musuems
Thurs 4th - Historic canal walk from Victoria Quays
Sat 6th - Circle of Life in Nature: Family Activity with Compassionate Sheffield at Gleadless Scout Hut - Festival of Debate event
Sat 6th - Ranger led conservation morning at Wardsend Cemetery
Sun 7th / Mon 8th - Storrs Woodland Makers Market (see above)
Sun 7th - Morning bird walk with RSPB at Wardsend Cemetery
Sun 7th - Spring foraging walk at Cat Lane Woods
Finally, one of the petitions we featured last week is now approaching 1,000 signatories. The Sheaf Valley active travel route has significantly increased cycling along Little London Road, and also made walking much safer after a filter excluding motor traffic went in under the old railway bridge.
An earlier petition, now ended after receiving 744 responses, had asked for the filter to be removed on the basis it was increasing traffic on Abbeydale Road.
Readers of my piece on active travel thinking for full members of the Sheffield Tribune may remember the ‘4 Rs’ explanation from travel planners about what actually happens when motor traffic is curtailed in favour of active travel.
Drivers ‘Remode’ (make the same trip but not in a car) or they ‘Retime’ (make the trip another time of day), or ‘Reroute’ (go a different way, maybe avoid the area completely, or switch to Abbeydale Rd in this case) or ‘Reduce’ (the journey doesn’t happen, for example by combining it with another trip at another time).
Combined with the research from Living Streets South West Sheffield showing that Sheffield car ownership has drastically increased over recent years, the simple conclusion that congestion on Abbeydale Rd is caused by the safety filter on Little London Road is suspect, to say the least.
The last day to sign the petition is today (Sun 30th) and as I write this, it’s at 964 signatories.
Looking West From World’s End
The World’s End is between Shirecliffe allotments and the Bassetts sweet factory, just at the back of Owlerton dog track.
I’ve been visiting for nearly twenty years, and it’s a quiet, green oasis of calm and decaying gravestones, with views of the upper reaches of the Don that would rival a national park riverscape.
Back in 2004, the then Friends group, who led history tours of the place, explained that World’s End was the site’s original name, maybe coined over 1,000 years ago in reference to the expected second coming of Christ at the turn of the first Millennium. It was listed as Werlsend in 1366, before being eventually consecrated as Wardsend Cemetery in 1859.
Even though his office was only 300 yards away from the old Victorian cemetery, Howard Bayley was a tutor at Sheffield College for seven years before he first discovered the World’s End ten years ago.
“I was with a group of students with learning difficulties, and we’d come down Livesey Street looking at flytipping and things that could help or harm the environment. We said let’s go up those steps, and found this.”
Howard and I are at the newly named Wardsend Cemetery Heritage Park, which still has plenty of leaning moss-covered gravestones, but the paths are now mostly cleared, and as we talk there are dog walkers passing by, and students from the college heading down to study, or climbing back home after a day’s lectures to Shirecliffe and Southey Green.
We talked about how we remembered that time, so long ago in 2020, when everyone was told to go out and walk or cycle round their local green space, and how the enthusiasm for local parks and woodlands and riversides during Covid led to discussion about equitable access to those places, in the world to come.
Howard is in a fairly unique position, as he lives near the Porter Valley, where the green spaces are loved and cared for, and grants of hundreds of thousands of pounds can be won by keen retired professionals volunteering in highly effective groups like the Friends of the Porter Valley.
But then he spends his own volunteering time across the city where health outcomes are much lower, at the World’s End, doing his best to help improve access to a fabulous green space for the people of north Sheffield.
“People who live in those more affluent areas know how to do things, they have the experience, and the contacts. The Friends of the Porter Valley did a fantastic job of raising money, I think £750,000 for the Forge Dam work, they always do, but they live in an area where they’re able to do that. I couldn’t begin to think about that in Southey or Shirecliffe of Burngreave.”
The original Friends group at Wardsend did great history work, but had struggled to keep the place tidy and litter free, which the more recent incarnation of the Friends of Wardsend Cemetery do by regular litter picks and hustling the council’s parks department. The council are sympathetic, but have little money and few resources since cuts to public funding have eaten away their ability to offer much more than a skeleton service and support to keen locals.
As the robins sing, and wagtails skim over the Don below, Howard tells me how his posse of a dozen keen colleagues at the Friends of Wardsend Cemetery have helped restore the site of the old chapel as a stage and performance space, and how a colleague with links to Hull Truck Theatre Company wants to develop the stage as a place where activities happen so often that local people just say: “Oh let’s see what’s happening at Wardsend this week?”
Dr Nicky Rivers from the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust has just visited, and says Wardsend is a wonderful wildlife site, with unique areas of urban heathland, woodland and riverside.
Just above the Sheffield to Stocksbridge railway line, she noted a large colony of Ashy Mining Bees digging holes, (Howard says they’re his new favourite insect), and she’s now investigating whether Wardsend can gain an official urban Wildlife Site designation to go with its Heritage Park status.
A 2018 BioBlitz event with the Don Catchment Rivers Trust recorded 200 species, ranging from otters and kingfishers to bats, badgers and the Budapest Slug.
Howard points across the river to a huge overgrown space owned by the National Grid. Wouldn’t it be great to get a simple environmental education centre over there, he says, so kids could wash their hands and go to the toilet and take shelter if it rains when they come for their school trips. And why can’t there be a sign at the top of Livesey Street by Penistone Road, directing people to Wardsend Cemetery Heritage Park?
And he looks at the paths to Herries Road in one direction and Kelham Island in the other, which get muddy and difficult, but could open up the area to people from all over the city.
The beautiful riverside path to Neepsend and Kelham is currently home to a community of new age travellers. The Upper Don Trail Trust have been negotiating for some time to open this route as a link in an active travel route from Sheffield city centre through to Stocksbridge and beyond.
But finding the travellers an alternative site is taking a very long time, when the travellers and everyone else can see that living by a big river at times of now regular flooding is a major problem. Or a disaster waiting to happen, as Simon Ogden from the Upper Don Trail Trust puts it.
While the powers that be negotiate about funding for the full Upper Don Trail, can we not at least improve the pathways, says Howard?
We wander up an old cemetery path recently cleared by his colleagues, and Howard points me to graves of Crimean War and Gallipoli victims, of local business folk and worker activists, and the sad grave of 23 year old George Beaumont, accidentally killed while playing football on Christmas Day 1877.
Birch trees have sprouted through the pathway lined by crozzle from cementation furnaces. Most of the hillside trees are younger than the graves, Howard says.
It is a beautiful and remarkable place, and if access were better, if the paths didn’t became so hard to walk that families turn back and give up, if there were signs showing people where to go, and if the fences and steps were quickly tidied up again if they got broken or vandalised, more people would come, says Howard.
One of the main aims for less well known places like Wardsend, he says, is for people to know about them, and feel happy about visiting them. The reinvigorated Parks and Green Space Forum in Sheffield might now be able to address some of these disparities, he adds.
When I talk to Friends groups, like the new Friends of Oxley Park in Stocksbridge, which has already moved on from the original 2019 aim to get something done about the broken swings to raising money for a sculpture trail (see earlier story), they say a few enthusiastic locals with a bit of nowse can noticeably improve their green spaces. (And in Stocksbridge inspire other local groups to form and get going, says Vic Faulkner from the Friends of Oxley Park ).
But they also say they need resources and support to really get things done. The long months of Covid lockdown helped us, and the country’s public health scientists, to recognise the importance of our green spaces. But have we learned the lessons from that time, asks Howard.
Access to green space and nature is important for everyone, he says, not just those with the skills and resources to write emails and make calls to the right people to make things happen.
“The Porter Valley is a wonderful place,” he says. “I go down there and see that people are asking questions about how a new fence is to be made, or the size of a sign, or the surface of a new footpath. Here in Wardsend, we’d just be happy with a fence, a sign, and a footpath.”
I’ll have more on the bluebells of Sheffield in the Sunday Supplement tonight, so do call back then.
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