Community focus: Former Sheffield pit village’s mining past leading to bright future

Lisa Burgin and Amanda Webster of Bizzy Bee Family Childcare Centre
Lisa Burgin and Amanda Webster of Bizzy Bee Family Childcare Centre

Like many villages around Sheffield and South Yorkshire, Beighton was left rocked when its pit shut.

Brookhouse Colliery, which lied between the village and neighbouring Swallownest, closed in 1985.

The fire at Bizzy Bee.

The fire at Bizzy Bee.

But, the other similarity the village has with others acorss the Steel City is a real sense of community and togetherness – something which probably stems from the pit closure itself.

At a time of tragedy and despair, residents united and pulled together to help each other and the village recover from the countless job losses.

Fast forward 30 years and that sense of community was tested again – when a nursery was left gutted by an arson attack.

Staff and parents of children at Bizzy Bee Family Childcare Centre looked on in horror on November 1, 2015 as flames tore through the School Road site.

Lee Greenwood, centre manager at Crystal Peaks

Lee Greenwood, centre manager at Crystal Peaks

But, just as they did when the colliery was capped off, the people of Beighton - and further afield – pulled out all the stops to help.

Lisa Burgin, nursery manager, said: “It’s all a bit of a blur that night. One of our staff text me saying there were firefighters on the site and that’s when I knew something was wrong.

“The building is an L-shape and the fire was in the middle of the ‘L’. It started in the playground and spread.

“As time went on the roof fell in within a few weeks. One classroom was completely destroyed and everything was water damaged.

High Street, Beighton.

High Street, Beighton.

“The next day we came in and got some paper work and in the first week I thought that was it because we had to close and once parents have gone and moved their children you’ve got to build everything back up.”

With the nursery forced to close, parents of around 165 children had to find alternative provision and 29 hard-working members of staff lost their jobs.

But people living in the area did what they do best – they came together and helped their neighbours at their time of need.

Staff posted regular updates on the nursery’s Facebook page, which then sparked a mass fundraising effort.

The Lifestyle Centre, Beighton.

The Lifestyle Centre, Beighton.

Lisa said: “All the way through we had a Facebook page and we did our best to keep parents involved.

“Then we started fundraising because we weren’t sure if the insurance would cover us and in case we didn’t get the payout we wished.

“We had so many donations – brand new toys, teddies, businesses offered us prizes for raffles – the response was just amazing.

“People were so supportive and everyone wanted to help us.”

That support and a real determindation from nursery staff led to it reopening on August, 30 2016 and Lisa said they were now busier than ever.

She added: “I am notglad  that it happened and I wish it never did but it’s made us all stronger and showed what a fantastic place Beighton is.”

Pits also acted as focal points for communities – everyone knew everyone and would share a chat.

And while the colliery has now been replaced with Rother Valley Country Park and the former Royal Oak pub is now a Tesco Express, there are still places in the village that act as that ‘hub’.

Beighton Miners' Welfare still exisits, complete with sports pitches and a clubhouse.

And the Lifestyle Community Centre also ensures people in the village are kept busy.

Operating from a dilapidated former church hall, the centre acts as a community hub for all kinds of projects.

More than 1,000 people of all ages come through its doors every week. for everything from a dementia-friendly tea dance to baby ballet.

Amanda Finbow-Froggat, operations assistant, was busy setting up the hall for a tea dance.

She said: “We pride ourselves on offering something for the nought to 99 age group. The aim is there is something for everyone and there are lots of free activities too.

“The sessions are a great social thing for a lot of people. The place is a community centre but it’s not run as a traditional community centre – it’s a hub.”

The centre’s main hall is used for different sessions Monday to Saturday - ranging from baby classes to martial arts.

Upstairs, business – including a physiotherapist, counsellor and tattoist - occupy 11 units.

Amanda said: “We are a not-for-profit organisation so all the money we raise goes back to providing all of the free events.

“The day the centre opened was they day the recession was announced so the fact that it's still going is testament to those who use it.

“If it was to go it would be a huge shame because it’s such a lifeline to people.”

Another of the village’s ‘hubs’ is Crystal Peaks Shopping Centre, which opened in 1988.

Stuntman Eddie the Eagle officially opened it and returned earlier this year to celebrate its 30th birthday.

Centre manager Lee Greenwood said the sense of community can be felt and seen in the centre.

He said: “We are customer friendly and offer an alternative to shopping online. People come here as a leisure shopping trip and meet their friends and a lot of people come here to see each other and we have to facilitate that.

“The last time we did research we found our customers come around 70 times a year on average, which is more than once a week so we have got high frequency low spend.

"That’s a positive thing for us and I think we are inextricably linked with the aeas around us.

“They are our core customer base and without them we wouldn’t have as much of a purpose. But likewise, without us Beighton wouldn’t have a library and a vets so we fufil those core services as well.”

The centre itself employs 58 members of staff, with a further 1,600 working in its stores – most of whom are from Beighton and its surrounding townships, Lee said.

He added: “It’s like looking after a small town in many ways rather than running a fashion-led shopping centre.

“It’s about mkaing sure we understand we’re part of the community as a lot of our customers come to meet friends and have a chat.”