Special Report: Hundreds help to shine a light on city park’s future

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“It used to be an edgier place to visit,” said Peter Bull from Friends of Parkwood Springs. That is, there were more burned out cars dotted around the hillside above Neepsend and edgy-averse people were not keen to make the journey east of Neepsend.

Parkwood Springs last Saturday saw edginess of a different stripe, as a line of over 380 people carrying animal lanterns joined Sheffield Samba Band to meander noisily up through the wooded slopes to the hilltop above Sheffield’s developing urban country park.

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The 10th Beacons Parkwood Springs Procession, organised by Friends of Parkwood Springs and Sheffield City Council, saw children from nearby schools, Scout and Guide groups and people from churches and community groups carry their home made paper lanterns up to the hilltop from the playing fields off Cooks Wood Road.

“I’d say Parkwood Springs had latent potential 10 years ago,” said Sheffield Council woodland officer Jon Dallow. “It wasn’t as used and loved as it is today. The first Beacon Procession in 2007 was seen as a great way of getting people to come up to the site.”

And they have. He cited the 1,000 visitors to the school cross country event earlier in the day, and the constant stream of football players and mountain bikers of all ages making use of the Outdoor City’s invigorated urban country park.

“It’s remarkable that in inner city Sheffield we’ve got this big area of green space as big as Hyde Park in London, with fantastic views and countryside that you could expect to see in the middle of the Peak District,” said Neill Schofield of Friends of Parkwood Springs. “But there are still so many people who have no idea where Parkwood Springs is, so there is still plenty to do.”

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Sheffielders may have noticed white patches reappearing on the slopes of Parkwood, said Jon Dallow. “It’s not a new ski village, yet,” he said. “It’s actually the end of the restoration of the old landfill site, which closed two years ago. The topsoil will now be going on and the planting will begin early next year.”

New woodland and grassland will grow over the old tip, and there will be ponds for water birds and wildlife.

A path is already under construction to take people up the hill from Neepsend past a new lake, which will hopefully open to the public in the next year or so. Meanwhile the old rubbish dump is producing methane for electricity - using old German submarine engines, said Peter Bull.

Final talks are ongoing with a number of potential operators for an outdoor activity centre on the old ski slope, with a decision expected by the new year.

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Neill noted that the Friends are keen the proposed centre will adhere to the ethos of a ‘country park in the city’ which could include ski slopes, mountain biking, possibly zip wires and hopefully a cafe and toilets, he said.

“We are also carrying out monitoring with Sorby Natural History Society of mammals and bats, for example, and we’ve recently had sightings of roe deer up here,” said Peter Bull.

“This was a deer park in the Middle Ages, so we’re very pleased to get deer back here now.”

As Sheffield Samba Band drummed up the hillside, storyteller Shonaleigh recalled the original tale she told 10 years ago, of Jennie Greenteeth and the Firebird egg, born out of the waters of the river Don, and inspired then by the children of Parkwood Springs.

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“It was sometimes seen as scary here then, and the story was about the children’s fears and how to overcome them,” she said, adding that the story inspired by the hillside above Neepsend has been told on her storytelling travels to New Zealand, the USA, Singapore and Vietnam.

“This place has certainly changed since then.

“But change is good.”

* More info: Friends of Parkwood Springs

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