Community 13.07.17

Northern Lights – Sheffield canals

For much of the last century, Sheffield’s Don Valley was heavily industrialised, with the massive Brown Bayley Steels, Hadfields and Firth Brown (now Sheffield Forgemasters) – where, with great satisfaction, I served my engineering apprenticeship many years ago – dominating the landscape. An impressive chunk of history, with the inventor of stainless steel on the roll call, but not a healthy environment to raise your family.
Brown Bayley Steels was linked to the remainder of Sheffield via Attercliffe Common, a railway siding and the Sheffield and Tinsley Canal providing a desolate environment for the back to back houses in the shadow of steelworks. There was no tree in sight.
How times have changed.
When the new open space at the exciting Olympic Legacy Park (OLP), on the site of some of those steelworks, becomes accessible later this year, there will be an Urban Park Run around the location that is being developed in association with the team at Sheffield City Council; there will be opportunities to play cricket at the Don Valley Bowl; there will be routes for parents and children with push chairs, all adding to the dozen or so sports that you can take part in at surrounding facilities, including English Institute of Sport Sheffield (EISS) and iceSheffield.
These activities will be free and during the next couple of months, we will be working with the Oasis Academy and the University Technical College (UTC) to develop community programmes that will optimise the use of space and for the people who live in the nearby areas of Attercliffe and Darnall.
It will also be possible to walk through green, car-free spaces all the way from Attercliffe Common, along the canal tow path, and into the centre of the city. This is not just a symbolic gesture: connecting natural spaces is good for people’s health, for nature, and encourages more opportunities for wealth to flow about the city.
The board of the OLP is starting to look at other exciting opportunities with Sheffield City Council, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, NHS Foundation Trust, and Sheffield Hallam University to develop outside the immediate boundary of the previous Don Valley Stadium site to deliver a world class health, research and innovation centre of excellence.
These initiatives include a further research centre in the health and wellbeing sectors and presenting these initiatives to the Government for funding from the Industrial Strategy Fund.
However, over the last six months as work progressed delivering a new-look landscape for the local community, it has become clear that the nearby canal and its paths had been long neglected. It needed a makeover. Pathways were overgrown, features in a state of disrepair, and the whole route was not as well used – or well known – as other parts of the Sheffield canal system.
So, the OLP team got together with Hellen Hornby from the River Stewardship Company and the Blue Loop Group and decided to do something about it.
Volunteers from the Sheffield consultants working with the OLP supplemented the Blue Loop Team and meet once a month to hack, clean, paint and mend. The grandeur of the canal is becoming visible again, the wonderful trees and wildflowers given some space to breathe and vital safety repairs are making it a child friendly environment. Henry Boot, principal contractors for infrastructure and landscaping at the OLP, have really made a difference. They have donated time, man power and materials to the project, repairing stonework and benches. Project lead for the OLP, David Hobson, and myself have both put on our wellies and hard hat to help – or some might say hinder – the project.
We want the OLP to be the catalyst for regeneration for this important part of this great City – opening up forgotten areas and delivering spaces that communities can use and enjoy whilst at the same time giving people the opportunity to discover parts of Sheffield that they may not be aware of. If you don’t believe me, take a walk down the Canal from Victoria Quays out to Tinsley or along the River Don from Castlegate to Meadowhall – you will not be disappointed.
We are demonstrating that economic generation in the form of research centres, new offices, laboratories, and business incubators can sit alongside activities that are available and can benefit the local community and the wider area of the City of Sheffield.
This is the sort of lateral thinking the city needs – to work together, to get things done for our communities. To say: ‘how can I make that better?’ rather than ‘how did that get so bad?’.
But, more than this, it is proof that big regeneration schemes such as the OLP need to work for the community.