We’re converts to urban living

Sheaf Valley Park Festival: Emma Wynters  and Jon Cotton of Abundance squeezing apples through the juice press
Sheaf Valley Park Festival: Emma Wynters and Jon Cotton of Abundance squeezing apples through the juice press

Why would you choose to set up home a few yards from Sheffield railway station?

This was one of the discussion points at the Sheaf Valley Park ‘Living in the City’ festival last Saturday.

“I came here because it’s a good place to live and I wanted it to be easy to get to Paris,” said Toby Hyam, property consultant and chair of the Friends of Sheaf Valley Park group, which organised the festival.

“It’s close to transport and cultural infrastructure, you don’t need a car to live here, and it’s a good mixed community.”

A housing guru called Toby choosing to live on a road near Park Hill flats at the back of Sheffield station to ease his commute to Paris: how times have changed for inner city Sheffield.

Unfortunately, the festival last weekend suffered from unrelenting drizzle. It still drew over 300 people to celebrate the opening of the £2m Green Link cycle and walking route connecting the station to Norfolk Park and beyond.

The route was opened by MP Paul Blomfield and a procession of over 100 people (including Dronfield Genquip Band ) made its way from the 1834 Cholera Monument through the South Street amphitheatre above the station to the end of South Street Park near Park Hill.

“I bring people from Scandinavia and Holland and Germany to see how we’re regenerating Sheffield and they look up at Park Hill and say: ‘This must be the most valuable real estate in the city. It’s near the tram and the station, there’s a green park around it, it’s a beautiful modernist building with sunlight in the morning and the evening, this must be the most expensive place in the city to live?’

“And I have to say: ‘No, it’s one of the cheapest’.”

The UK public still have some way to go with their perceptions of suburbs and inner cities, Toby sighs.

“Many of our friends say they wouldn’t want to live here because they think they want a driveway and a view of the Peak District,” said Kim Swan, who lives with Toby near South Street Park. “But actually living in the city centre at our age is fantastic.”

The festival included music and poetry reading, pony rides, tea and scones, a dog show, fresh pressed juice from the Abundance project, and artist Alex Dickerson creating a makeshift home out of waste wood and pallets, to highlight the need to renovate old buildings into modern housing and thus save the country millions, he said. “I’m amazed how many people don’t know this park is here,” Toby said. “But it’s because they drive everywhere in a car and don’t walk or cycle in the city centre.”

The development of Park Hill and new houses on the old Castle College site mean that inner city resident numbers will continue to grow above the current 16,000, said Toby. His neighbours include people of all backgrounds, he noted, including professional people.

GP Tom Cossham, for example, who said: “This area is a real jewel. It’s so close to so much that’s happening in Sheffield, and there are all these green spaces in the city centre that so many people don’t know about.”

As an example, Tom said his morning run can include the best view over the city on Skye Edge or along the canal towpath where a few days ago he spotted no less than three kingfishers.

After the new track linking the station to Norfolk Park, the Friends now have their eyes on Skye Edge, which Toby says needs better lighting and pathways to make it feel safer.

Forty volunteers helped run Saturday’s festival at South Street Park, which Toby noted had been full of one up one down houses before their demolition in the 1950s, when residents would live with soot and smoke from the station and the pounding of the Ponds Forge drop hammer.

That industrial past is perhaps still in some people’s minds, he conceded, although the lack of inner city gentrification, as yet, is perhaps a good thing for new residents and developers.

“The city centre became an unpleasant place in the industrial revolution, which drove people out. Now, I think we need to fall in love with the city centre again, “ said Toby. “We are doing, but it’s taking a bit of time.”