Sheffield street party revives community spirit

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Things are changing in Hunters Bar, says mother-of-two Victoria Penman.

Streets which were once dominated by student houses are increasingly becoming home to more families with young children, creating a less transient population.

So Victoria decided to bring her neighbours on Bowood Road and Wayland Road together by reviving the traditional street party - complete with streams of bunting, children’s games, food and drink, and even a ‘swap shop’ for helpful residents to exchange skills or useful items.

The event went so well that more are being planned, and Victoria hopes the initiative will catch on as people increasingly yearn for the strong community ties of decades gone by.

Indeed, the consensus is that the last street party on Bowood Road took place more than 30 years ago in 1981, to celebrate the wedding of Charles and Diana.

“One of the older residents said ‘That’ll be before you were even born’ - I was, but only just!” said Victoria.

“But that wedding really was some time ago now.”

She added: “I thought it would be really nice for people to get to know each other on our road. It’s a great road to live on, I’ve been here since 2002 and it’s changed a lot over that time. Historically it’s been very studenty, but now progressively more families have moved in.

“Universities have built a lot of purpose-built accommodation, so a lot of students are living in those now. For our area in particular, Hallam used to have its Psalter Lane campus, but that’s closed now so more students are living in the city centre.

“It’s always been a nice community - one of my friend’s neighbours started up a book group in 2007, but a number of us didn’t know each other, so this was a way of making it even more of a community.”

Victoria said the party was ‘pretty easy’ to set up. A dedicated Facebook page was established for the two roads, volunteers put up posters and an initial meeting took place at a local pub to gauge the level of support.

An application was submitted to Sheffield Council to close the road for the day. Just two weeks’ notice is required, and as there were no objections from residents approval was granted.

“It was fairly low key in terms of organisation, we didn’t have lots set up,” said Victoria.

“The children rode their bikes and played swingball, and people brought along what they wanted. We have quite a few French people living on the road so they made crepes, and there were waffles too.”

One neighbour who works as a creative writing lecturer even penned an ode to Bowood Road specially for the occasion.

Victoria added: “We set up a washing line between two trees that have been chopped down - that’s another story! - so people could attach cards with the things they wanted and the things they could offer, such as skills or equipment they could lend.”

She reflected: “It does change things for the better. When you know people, when you see people in the street you won’t walk past them and you can relate to them more.

“There are some older people on our street and it’s important for them to know people living nearby, to call on if they can’t get out and need someone to go to the shop, for instance. That was one of the aims in particular.

“Also, people have a lot of resources but don’t necessarily have family in Sheffield or a support network in place. If you have children, it’s helpful to know people who could pick the kids up from school. It wasn’t too serious, though - more about fun and having a good time.”

Victoria, a council policy officer who has two children, Alex and Hermione, aged five and seven, said as well as more street parties, more straightforward ‘playing-out’ sessions are planned, which will only require the closure of the road.

She said: “We had really positive feedback from most of the people on the street and a lot of enthusiasm. There’ll definitely be more.”