Sheffield park goes from strength to strength

Sheaf Valley Park: looking at the view from the path to the cholera monument
Sheaf Valley Park: looking at the view from the path to the cholera monument

Up above Sheffield railway station, Toby Hyam reflected upon the recent Royal Town Planning Institute national Placemaking Award handed to the former stretch of weeds, litter and Victorian cobbles he now calls home.

“Award-winning green spaces are sometimes just a tarted-up park,” he observed, strolling along the (almost) mile-long green hillside stretching away from Park Hill Flats to the cholera monument and beyond. “But this is not a tarted-up park.”

We can all see Sheaf Valley Park above the tramlines, but since it’s situated in S2, not so many people from the suburbs would think about a visit to one of the most spectacular parks in the city, say the Friends group who helped plan the space along with Sheffield Council.

Sheaf Valley Park includes South Street Park near Park Hill, the grounds of the cholera monument and Clay Wood and includes sandstone terracing, a 1,000-seater amphitheatre and a young arboretum which will eventually feature dozens of tree species, including sessile oaks which grew on the site 500 years ago as part of the Duke of Norfolk’s deer park. It already has apple, plum, apricot and hazel trees for public scrumping, sculptures and semi-wild planting currently featuring pink and white alliums swaying like Christmas decorations in the summer grass.

“My sister lived here as a student in the 1990s when it was a scramble up a bank, and it was pretty grim,” said Linda Ball. “She said she used to think: ‘Why is it like this? It could be so much better.’ And now in 2015, it’s fantastic.”

Funding for the park came through various European and government renewal schemes, and from Urban Splash, developers of the new Park Hill flats, where the completed second phase opens its show flat this week.

Park Hill is Europe’s biggest Grade II listed building, said Toby Hyam, and was very much welcomed by locals as a replacement for the ‘court housing’ which crowded on the hillside until the 1950s. “There were 65 courts of one-up, one-down housing with no bathrooms and shared water facilities,” said Toby. “It was an unacceptable way for people to live.”

This week the parkland planted over those courts hosted international delegates from the Doc/Fest documentary film festival who look up from the Showroom and see it as an ideal picnic lunch spot.

“When they get here you see the surprise on their faces,” said Kim Swan. “We know an international film maker who’s lived in France, Vietnam and all over the world and she said ‘Sheffield is just incredible, I never knew it was going to be like this’ and she’ll take back that great story of Sheffield to the rest of the world.”

The park will be hosting The Handlebards bicycling theatre company on July 18 for a ‘pay what you like’ performance of A Midsummer’s Night Dream, and ‘Sheffield’s Biggest Community Supper’ in a marquee on September 5, open to everyone (but bring some food along, said Toby) as part of this year’s Sheaf Valley Festival.

The Friends of Sheaf Valley Park have their eyes on Skye Edge next as a logical continuation of the linear park idea, and hope to fund a coppicing project near Jervis Lum this autumn – new volunteers always welcome, they say.

The network of paths and cobbled streets above the station eventually steer sharply upwards to the cholera monument. The park’s cycle and running tracks then continue into Clay Wood, where you can see jays, wrens and woodpeckers 10 minutes’ walk from the station, said Kim Swan.

“Could you do that in Leeds? No. Could you do that in Manchester? Liverpool? Birmingham? Bath?” she continued, stopping short of New York, although she and Toby note that Copenhagen’s city architect loves the area.

Tom Cossham said Sheffielders have preconceptions about the Norfolk Park and Park Hill areas that should be challenged. “I’d say to people from other parts of the city, come to S2 and have a walk in the country.”

“I think in a few years Sheffield will be internationally known as one of the best city centres to live in,” said Toby Hyam.

Email fosvpsheffield@gmail.com for more information.