‘Let’s become a village’

Madame Zucchini with Hope (11) and Ella Silvester (8), and vegetable characters
Madame Zucchini with Hope (11) and Ella Silvester (8), and vegetable characters
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“Walkley has its funky residents but it’s generally got a much quieter feel to it,” said Madame Zucchini last Saturday, as she and other members of Walkley Community Forum launched the latest festival.

“Walkley has its funky residents but it’s generally got a much quieter feel to it,” said Madame Zucchini last Saturday, as she and other members of Walkley Community Forum launched the latest festival.

Walkley Festival Launch: LtoR Veronica Hardstaff and Cllr Ben Curran with Walkley Forum chairman Grenville Wilkinson (far right) cheer on Chris Reece with his panto horse

Walkley Festival Launch: LtoR Veronica Hardstaff and Cllr Ben Curran with Walkley Forum chairman Grenville Wilkinson (far right) cheer on Chris Reece with his panto horse

You couldn’t really imagine a funkier resident of anywhere than Mme Zucchini, in her swirling gown and tomato-themed headpiece, with vegetable peelers at her side.

The launch on Walkley Green wasn’t all that quiet, actually, with St Mary’s school band in action, along with participants limbering up in readiness for the pantomime animal race to be held later in the festival, along with various councillors, ex-councillors and Walkley Forum members discussing the themes of the moment, all on a small patch of grass on South Road opposite Netto.

Vegetable entertainer Zucchini performs at festivals and launches all over the city but Walkley is her home patch and she’s also a member of the community forum.

“The festival is about trying to knit together what already happens in Walkley,” she said.

“The more you gather together like this, the more you build momentum and make people like Walkley more.”

Various events will be taking place all over Walkley up to Sunday, July 10. There’ll be art exhibitions, craft and kung-fu workshops, guided walks, open days at the local natural healing and Buddhist centres, fairs and garden parties, prayers and pub quizzes and much more.

Forum chair Grenville Wilkinson said the tenth Walkley Festival is the biggest yet.

“We want to try and bring the community together, to get people to enjoy themselves and to encourage them to take part in it all, to get involved with the local community on a voluntary basis. If we improve the area, more people will visit and that will bring them back to the local shops.”

The shopping on South Road and thereabouts has been a key theme for the forum and those involved in Walkley well-being for quite some years.

Grenville pointed out the flowering planters spruced up for the festival and said the forum encourages people to shop locally.

“People are interested in using their local shops. No disrespect to the supermarkets, but we know our butcher here has been trained up by other Walkley butchers in the past.”

Madame Zucchini encourages local shopping in her vegetable cabaret but as Walkley resident Natalie Hunt she also finds there is plenty to celebrate for local shoppers on South Road.

She and Grenville listed the local fare: butchers, bakers, greengrocers, wine shop, sweet shop, bookies, several cafes, guitar shop, a bereavement counsellor and a tattoo parlour, among many others.

“It’s a good eclectic mix of shops,” said Grenville. “We’re trying to get more diversity up here and I think it’s improving all the time.”

Despite the theoretical recession, he added.

There are still concerns about the odd landlord allowing unrented shops to become an eyesore and about converting former shops to housing.

Grenville said that the forum had helped encourage a new ruling that shops between the end of South Road and Industry Street could not now be turned into housing.

The forum began in 1999 to “give a voice to the people of Walkley, and to make Walkley a better place to live and work”.

When they could see the benefits, many traders became involved themselves, something that doesn’t always happen in community groups, noted Natalie.

It’s hoped the festival will attract people from all over the city but Grenville sees the events as a way for local people to get together and enjoy their local area (or village, as he put it.)

“My goal is to get Walkley reclassified as a village,” he said, adding respectfully for the benefit of long-term villagers that he’d ‘only’ lived in Walkley since the 1970s.

“I think Walkley is a real community and we’d say if people try and get involved with everything it will have a knock-on effect and people will start looking after their neighbours, for example. And the more communities there are, they’ll create bigger communities where people all over Sheffield know each other.”

“I think people across the city have realised that they’ve missed doing things like this for a while,” said Madame Zucchini, amongst a crowd of Walkley families carving vegetables together.

“We all wanted to withdraw into ourselves a bit in the past but now people are saying, ‘We miss the community.’ Then they come here and say, ‘Oh yes, this is community!’ It’s meeting people and getting together like this.’”

Grenville added: “So we’d say to other people around Sheffield, get off your backsides and do the same.”

More information from www.walkleyforum.co.uk