Community at the root of 'beautiful park' transformation in its 70th year

One of Sheffield’s most beautiful parks has been ‘falling into decline’ in recent years – but a Friends of group has stepped in to “return it to its former glory.”

Wednesday, 28th April 2021, 1:18 pm
Updated Wednesday, 28th April 2021, 1:20 pm
Volunteer gardeners at Whirlow Brook Park. John Coldron. Picture Scott Merrylees

Whirlow Brook Park was opened to the public in 1951, and was popular for its verdant grassy areas and vibrant flower patches, surrounding Whirlow Brook Hall, a picturesque Edwardian manor house and former residence of Sir Walter and Lady Madge Benton-Jones in the 1920s.

Although the hall still sits proudly at the centre of the park today, it is now owned by a hotel chain and used solely for weddings and events, featuring in many a Sheffield couple’s wedding photographs.

Having been passed over to the city council, the park has been ‘falling into decline’ in recent years, with nine gardens becoming one, and the closure of the public cafe in the hall meaning that visitor numbers started to dwindle.

Volunteer gardeners at Whirlow Brook Park. Shelagh Woolliscroft. Picture Scott Merrylees

Now, a Friends of Whirlow Brook Park group has been set up, and, coinciding with its 70th anniversary this year, the group wants to utilise support and ideas of the local Sheffield community to return the park ‘to its former glory’.

“Back in the 1950s, it was a really beautiful park.

"It was very much a flower park, but a lot of the flower beds have been grassed over because they can’t be maintained,” said Maggie Girling from the new Friends of Whirlow Brook Park group, who are advancing on the work that the University of the Third Age (U3A) group is already doing in the park.

"So we have got a group that do a very small part of it, the U3A, a group of mainly retired people who maintain the commemorative garden in the park.

Volunteer gardeners at Whirlow Brook Park. Maggie Girling. Picture Scott Merrylees

"But we have always wanted to get the Friends group together to do the rest, so we are trying to recruit volunteers and get younger people involved with a view to helping to restore the park to the way it was back in the 1970s and restore it to its former glory.”

The Friends of group will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the park being open on Wednesday, June 23, and has even enlisted the help of Sir Jamie Benton Jones, a TV personality and publican, and relative of Sir Walter and Lady Madge, to get involved on the day.

"He’s a baron and lives in Lincolnshire, but he has never actually been to the Hall in the park, but it is an ancestral home,” Maggie said.

"So in June he is coming down and we are going to celebrate the 70 years.

"He will have a tour of the house, and the hotel company that owns the house will be putting on a dinner for him and other guests – including the Lord Mayor. Hopefully that will generate a lot of interest in the park, too.”

The group are also holding a public consultation in the park next month on Wednesday May 19, and will invite locals and families in to the hall to talk and ask questions about how often they come to the park, what they would like to see, and how it can happen.

There is already plans in the pipeline for a cafe to be built, and the Friends of group hopes that will attract more visitors back in the future.

During the past year of a pandemic, the park has proved to be an important green space to the community.

Maggie said: "It is a beautiful park still, and there used to be a public cafe.

"It is more of a quiet, relaxing type of park and for this local area lots of people go for walks, it goes into the valley that leads to Ringinglow.

"At the moment it has lots of lawns and trees, and it has a stream and waterfalls, but a lot of people we have spoken to in the park over the pandemic have said how they have used it more and more because it is quiet and relaxing; you can sit and sort of meditate, or just have a quiet time.

“We are restoring it to its former glory, but they may want different things.

"There were lots of different gardens, flower gardens, rose gardens, but it might not be what people want these days. It is sadly fallen into decline because there’s no toilet or cafe.

"But the council have just signed a contract to build a cafe and to put a toilet in so hopefully that will attract more people.”

The pond in the park is already used by Sheffield canoe enthusiasts, but the Friends of group also hopes to encourage some more wellbeing groups, such as tai chi, and scouting organisations, to use the park for their work.

It currently costs £10 a year to join the Friends of Whirlow Brook Park group, and there are plans to develop bids and start an online Crowdfunder appeal to raise funds to transform the park – but that will rely on the support from the community.

"So there’s some great idea but it is not going to happen over night,” Maggie adds.

“I think anything that gets the community involved and helps to improve it sparks people’s imaginations, and that’s what we need.”

The public consultation event will take place from 4-8pm on Wednesday May 19.

The event, run in conjunction with the council, will feature individual tables so people can adhere to social distancing while their share their ideas.

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