Uniting the community for 20th time at Sheffield’s Sharrow Festival

Sharrow Festival 2016 at Mount Pleasant Park. Mulembas D'Africa entertained the crowds.
Sharrow Festival 2016 at Mount Pleasant Park. Mulembas D'Africa entertained the crowds.

“For me it’s the best day of the year,” says Alan Deadman, explaining the longevity of Sheffield’s Sharrow Festival, which returns for its 20th outing this Saturday.

“We’ve got over 80 or 90 different ethnic groups here, and everybody comes out and lets their hair down.”

Sharrow Festival 2016 at Mount Pleasant Park. Highfield Trinity Church were sellings strawberries and scones. Pictured are Eileen Woodthorpe, Christine Ward, Omidreza Amiri, and Mehdi Amiri.

Sharrow Festival 2016 at Mount Pleasant Park. Highfield Trinity Church were sellings strawberries and scones. Pictured are Eileen Woodthorpe, Christine Ward, Omidreza Amiri, and Mehdi Amiri.

Alan chairs the festival committee, and has watched the occasion grow into today’s annual celebration - a free, volunteer-run affair centred on Mount Pleasant Park, featuring scores of musical acts from across the world, as well as a wide range of stalls, food and activities.

In many ways it’s more than just a one-day happening, too. Fundraisers, mostly concerts, are held throughout the year and varied events are spread across a Sharrow Festival Fortnight.

Alan believes the benefits for attendees extend far beyond simply enjoying a fun day out. Uniting people of different cultures, residents of all ages and the large student population in Sharrow is a key aim.

“As a community, it’s one of the best in the country, but it has its problems with a bit of gang activity. Sharrow’s very mixed. There are a lot of people working behind the scenes to promote a community feel.”

The inaugural festival took place in 1998, set up by the Friends of Mount Pleasant Park - a spot created in the 1970s following the demolition of terraced housing that’s ‘quite new, as parks go’, remarks Alan.

“It wasn’t used very much, so the main motivation was to get people to know about the park and make use of it.”

Alan’s involvement was confined to DJing at first, but by 2000 he was considering staging a one-off festival himself, having obtained grant funding from the Arts Council of £10,000.

“Then I thought it was stupid trying to do a one-off. It often takes a few years for the professionals to bed in. So I got in touch with the organisers and said I had this money for the festival.”

The funds helped to pay for a large music stage for the first time.

“That’s always been my enthusiasm,” says Alan, who also programmes the stage in the Peace Gardens during Tramlines.

“It’s fantastic. We have a slightly different crowd for the bands. It’s a good representation of Sheffield groups and a few coming from further afield.

“We’ve had African bands from Zimbabwe, and some very high-quality classical Asian music performances.

“I’ve always been into world music, from way back when there wasn’t really anything like that going on.”

Alan adds: “Places like Sharrow Festival are kind of stepping stones for bands to move on and develop.”

He admits money is harder to come by 17 years on from the generous Arts Council grant.

“It’s not so easy. It’s a bit like a lottery. Maybe every four years or so we find something that works. Last year just through fundraisers we raised £4,000.

“We don’t have a bar, for obvious reasons really in a Muslim area, so we can’t collect money that way.”

Stalls, collections and an after-party in the Cremorne pub on London Road all help to drum up resources, however.

For the 20th year, an expansion is on the cards - a new Tropical Island Stage is being added, with Caribbean food and carnival costume-making. It’s Alan’s last year, though - after Saturday he will hand over the job of leading the 10-strong committee, but says the festival has a bright future ahead.

“There’s a lot of goodwill around at the moment - we’ve seen a good side to people recently.”

n Sharrow Festival runs from noon to 8pm. Visit www.sharrowfestival.co.uk for details.