Cliffhanger festival highlights the best of city’s outdoor opportunities - Graves Park event features the cream of Sheffield’s outdoor economy and gives visitors the chance to see and try the activities on our doorstep.
Growing up in Darnall, Steve Marsden never had any doubts that Sheffield was an outdoor city.
“I spent my time climbing trees and riding my bike,” he said.
Forty years later, he’d perhaps have been surprised to find himself riding his bike for a living, leading a group of apprentice mountain bikers around the Recycle Bikes timber trail at Sheffield’s annual Cliffhanger festival. But that’s the nature of Sheffield’s outdoor economy: all kinds of jobs and opportunities are appearing in the city with its heart in the Peak District.
One hundred traders were plying their outdoor sport and leisure wares at last weekend’s festival in Graves Park, most of them from Sheffield or the Peak District. “There’s plenty of entrepreneurs and little cottage industries setting up, so the council is realising this economy is there,” said organiser Matt Heason. “I think it’s exciting that the council is getting behind the idea of Sheffield being the UK outdoor capital.”
Woodland officer and long time proponent of the city’s outdoor economy, Jon Dallow, pondered what the ramblers and climbers of old may have said of the new initiative. “They’d have said: ‘Aye, it’s about time.’”
Jon and Matt both came to live in Sheffield because of the national park on its doorstep. “You see these surveys of the top cities in the world to live in, with places like Vancouver and Christchurch,” said Matt. “Sheffield has yet to feature in such a survey, but I’ve yet to be in another city where you can live in a leafy suburb with access to a city centre with great bars and independent cinemas and all that, and you can be out climbing at Burbage in 15 minutes. There isn’t anywhere else in the world like that.”
Sheffield has been getting on with its outdoor economy for quite some time, of course, and the festival gave visitors the chance to climb, mountain bike, run, orienteer, and watch practitioners of parkour, trial cycling and new sports such as slacklining (requirements: two trees and a plastic strip to tie between them, to walk along and bounce off). Associated industries represented included foot massage and shed doors to keep your kit safe.
“For every mountain cyclist there’s a frame builder or a bike shop, for every climber there’s a climbing wall and the industry that supports it,” said Jon Dallow.
Steve Marsden has been working in the local outdoors industry for the past few years to inspire local people to take up cycling, often people with mental or physical disabilities. He said the perception that the outdoor lifestyle is just about young fit people is quite wrong.
“For me it’s about everybody taking part. It gets people out and about in the fresh air so they can socialise and meet new friends.”
He and Jon Dallow added that initiatives like the new Parkwood mountain bike track will bring outdoor sports to areas of northern Sheffield where they might inspire young people to take up a more active lifestyle.
The track is also popular with locals because the area is busier, and so feels safer and more accessible.
Steve compared the new ‘outdoor capital’ initiative with the still controversial city of sport plan of 30 years ago: “People laughed at the idea of turning Sheffield into a sports city, but then you look at the Olympics last year and how Yorkshire got so many golds we would have been 12th in the medal table. And now my kids have so many fantastic sports to try, from cycling to swimming to trampolining.”
The idea of promoting the Outdoor Capital to the country and the wider world is perhaps all that’s been missing.
Sheffield already has dozens of international athletes in the climbing, running, caving, cycling and associated ‘outdoor’ fields, said Matt Heason, the industry is making its own investments, and the outdoor sports infrastructure of the Sheffield area’s hills, edges and valleys has been in place for 300m years or so.
“Sheffield has got all these natural assets, and it just needs to look after them,” said Jon Dallow. “Sheffield could aspire to be like all these other places, but now everyone’s got a Meadowhall, why shouldn’t it just aspire to be itself?”