Community pride and toil keeping village spirit alive

Preparations for Grenoside in Bloom: ltor Helen Jackson, Richard Godley, David Dulieu and Alan Hooper by one of the Andrew Vickers sculptures on Grenoside Green
Preparations for Grenoside in Bloom: ltor Helen Jackson, Richard Godley, David Dulieu and Alan Hooper by one of the Andrew Vickers sculptures on Grenoside Green

THE view from Grenoside Green takes in a panoramic sweep over northern Sheffield, from Keppel’s Column to the English Institute of Sport.

The Grenoside in Bloom task force (or four of them at least) were taking it all in last weekend, surrounded by the floral displays they and their fellow villagers have been preening over the last few weeks.

“If the Walkers and the Tingles had the business acumen of the Jessops, the Browns, the Vickers or Firths, this could have been Stocksbridge, or even obliterated to become Brightside,” said David Dulieu.

He conceded the geography was wrong, but the work of the steel pioneers of Grenoside did lead to a 19th century “explosion” of file cutters, and other craftsmen making springs or shuttle tips. “We do have a small claim in Sheffield’s steel history.”

David takes an interest in the history of Grenoside, as do dozens of others: the Grenoside and District History Group has only just reopened to members, as its meetings were getting hard to accommodate at 50 to 60 people at a time.

David is, however, an incomer: “I’ve only lived here since 1965,” he admitted.

In the villages of northern Sheffield, a mere 46 years of residence is not enough to absolve you of incomer status, of course. But if you get involved, as incomers often do, your Essex or Ranmoor heritage may be overlooked.

This week, the Yorkshire in Bloom judges are ascending to Grenoside to tour the village and see if the floral and garden displays pass muster: the village has picked up several Silver Gilt awards in recent years.

It seems the entire village has got involved: the pubs, churches and chapels, school, shops, community groups and many others. Richard Godley, armed with his litter picker, had been up leafleting since 7.30 am, and the previous evening he’d been out with the local scout group ensuring the floral displays were weed free.

“You’ve got to work hard at it,” said Richard. “You’ve got to have those dedicated individuals. Here I suspect we’ve got about 40 or 50 people with multi-hatted functions in different groups and organisations, and that network works.”

An example is Grenoside Green. Once the application for housing was defeated after the demolition of the old library, locals got together and applied for grants and the idea of Grenoside Green took shape, and was eventually created a few years ago.

One person found some stones at an abandoned factory, and organised to get them shipped up to the Green. Someone else arranged for artist Andrew Vickers to make them into sculptures. The new village school was originally planned for a site further up the hill: local people noted this would obscure the view so it was shifted lower down.

The Green itself now serves several functions: performance space, outdoor classroom for the school, viewpoint, tourist attraction for visitors on the Transpennine Trail, gathering spot for school pupils and families, wildlife refuge, even a conservation area for a small piece of ancient farmland. All because of local people working in partnership with each other, with the local authority, with traders, and others.

Helen Jackson, herself a politician for many years, said: “I used to rely on Grenoside Conservation Society when I represented the village, because I knew they were well organised, and you knew you’d get a sensible well grounded response from them. As a politician, that gave you strength to say, look, this is what the people of Grenoside are thinking.”

“Coherent reasoned arguments are the basis of a successful dialogue with council officers and politicians,” said David Dulieu of the Conservation Society. “You don’t go ranting, you usually get much further by producing reasoned cases and partnership working.”

The various Greno Groups are now helping Sheffield Wildlife Trust in its appeal to raise money to buy Greno Woods for the public, to help create, said David: “A beautiful swathe of woodland around Grenoside stretching from Greno Woods to the top of Wharncliffe.”

The swathe of green contains ancient woodlands, rare birds and insects, old industrial sites and lots more, he added.

Other Grenoside people are helping to make improvements to the park and looking into a new bowling green, and the next big project is the renovation of the old Reading Rooms as a community education and activity centre. A £200,000 application to the Heritage Lottery Fund will be made shortly.

“It’s been a massive undertaking, with volunteers putting in hundreds of hours of work,” said Richard Godley. “But we are confident, because we’ve put in that much time and effort.”

The Reading Rooms are a listed 19th century schoolroom that has gradually fallen into disrepair. The plan is to renovate and link it to activities for all the village, including local schools, who are already using the Reading Room land for gardening projects. It will also supply another community space - the main village community centre is often fully booked, said Alan Hooper.

It all helps to keep the village thriving.

The Grenoside in Bloomers obtained a grant to buy 50 whisky barrels a few years ago, and distributed them as floral planters around the village. Keeping the ‘cared for’ look tends to prevent vandalism and ‘grot spots’ as Richard puts it. He added that there are many thriving small business in the village now, including several pubs and five cafes, all benefiting from the proximity of the Transpennine Trail.

“Grenoside is not unique,” said David Dulieu, of the effect of energetic locals making things happen, as Richard Godley aimed his litter picker at a bush containing a stray biscuit wrapper. “I’ve seen this kind of thing happening everywhere you go, but you’ve got to work hard at it.”