COMMUNITY IN FOCUS: ‘Village-like’ Handsworth shows its fighting spirit

Handsworth’s resilience and fighting spirit has been embodied in a struggle to protect a much-loved community pub which has been saved from the bulldozer – for now.

Campaigners in the thriving residential suburb have fought long and hard to keep the Holme Lea pub on Handsworth Road open.

When the news broke the pub could be turned into flats, regular drinkers and community groups who use the venue didn’t sit and sulk.

They rallied round, started a petition and fought to save the pub.

But plans to knock the building down to make way for 27 flats were recommended by approval by Sheffield Council planning officers in a report.

However, councillors on the planning committee either voted to abstain or rejected the proposal. Further consultation will now take place to decide the site’s future.

Many of the campaigners packed out the pub in March in a show of unity when The Star highlighted their struggle. One said the former Handsworth Working Men’s Club being bulldozed would ‘rip the soul’ out of the community.

The decor might be dated, but as Jack Ku, of nearby Medlock Road, said: “It doesn’t feel like your average pub, the customers are like an extended family.”

Jack set up a petition to save the pub, which attracted hundreds of signatures. He moved to Handsworth more than a year ago from nearby Stradbroke.

Jack runs events on a Sunday lunchtime at the pub and said he ‘loves’ the area and was made to feel very welcome.

“The people who go in the pub are great, it’s a proper community. If the pub went then it would be a big blow because it supports so many other things going on.

“I’ve not been in Handsworth too long but I’ve had such a warm welcome. It’s a proper community and the Holme Lea embodies that in the area.”

Handsworth, a place in Sheffield brimming with character, is often described by older generations as a village. Some speak about a time they were separated from the rest of Sheffield and were joined up to nearby Woodhouse by a country lane.

But today it’s a different story as increasing traffic and air pollution is becoming a concern.

The area has seen huge investment over the years – it is home to Sheffield’s biggest Asda and in the last couple of years a new pub, a McDonald’s and an Aldi.

Handsworth even raised a Hollywood TV and film star.

Sean Bean who grew up in the area as a young lad is more famously known for playing Eddard Stark in the HBO global sensation Game of Thrones and as Boromir in Lord of the Rings.

But in interviews he has often spoken about his home city and growing up in Handsworth.

Away from the glitz and glamour, Handsworth has its own team of stars who work at Amy’s House, a charity that supports and cares for children with special needs and their families.

A focal point in the area, the staff and users were devastated after specialised bikes for the children were stolen by thieves earlier this year.

But Handsworth rallied round and £10,000 was raised for new equipment.

“I honestly thought we might get £1,000,” said Jayne Hurditch of Amy’s House.

“We were completely taken aback by it. People in Handsworth were absolutely appalled by what happened and we were so overwhelmed by the response.”

Jayne is Handsworth born and bred and has happy memories of her childhood tearing around Bramley Lane on her bike with other children.

“Handsworth is really special and we feel like part of a big community,” she said.

“The people are great, everybody knows everybody and there’s a real community spirit like when we have our Amy’s House carol concerts at Christmas.

“There can be 200 people stood out in the freezing cold singing Christmas carols raising money for us. It’s unbelievable.

“It’s a Handsworth charity and people are so generous – we can’t thank them enough.

“It’s just a great place to live, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”

The ongoing issues at Holme Lea are linked heavily to Amy’s House. The pub is just one of many that regularly raise funds for them. Jayne said if the pub was to be knocked down they would lose around £2,000 of funding on average each year.

Maurice Littlewood is Handsworth personified. The 82-year-old is passionate about where he lives and does all he can to champion the area.

He is the chair of Friends of Handsworth, a community group born out of the long-running Handsworth Community Forum.

He and the group committee are involved helping vulnerable people, provide meals for pensioners and work as a ‘go-between’ residents and the council and Maurice is also concerned about traffic.

But his decades of loyal service to the community has not gone unnoticed. Maurice received an MBE for his years of selfless work helping others in 2011.

He described the day down in London as ‘very humbling’ and said he was ‘honoured’ to receive his accolade from Princess Anne.

“Handsworth has always been a bit special to me. I’ve got lots of fantastic memories growing up raising a family and people around here are really friendly.

“It does have a village community feel about it but I remember when places like Handsworth, Woodhouse, Treeton and Catcliffe were villages in their own right.

“I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”

Barbara Whitehead moved to Handsworth in her 20s. She’s stayed put for more than 50 years and remembers serving some of the miners on strike in 1984 when she worked in a pub.

Coming out of the Aldi on Handsworth Road, the 79-year-old, who grew up in Crookes, praised the ‘friendly nature’ of Handsworth.

“It is like a little village. There are lots of friendly people. I’ve found that people will at least smile at you if they don’t say hello but many do.

“I look after my daughter’s dog sometimes and it’s surprising how many stop and talk to you. I think it’s a good place to live.”

Clive Betts has been Handsworth’s MP since 1992 and also agrees the area has a village feel.

The MP also hailed Maurice a ‘star’ for the work he does and works closely with him.

“What makes Handsworth great is there are lots of people who really care about the community and they’re doing incredible things for the benefit of others,” Mr Betts said.

“It’s a great privilege to represent Handsworth, it’s got a thriving village-like atmosphere with lots going for it.

“There are concerns with traffic – that’s an issue we’re working hard on to resolve.

“There’s too much traffic on Handsworth Road and we need to find a way of taking some of the cars off it.

“The idea of a new by-pass has been touted but it’s working out where the best location would be.”