THE spark for action came when youths in the south of Sheffield began to cause trouble by smashing greenhouses, throwing roof tiles at trams and homes and setting fire to conifer trees.
Older residents responded by creating Owlthorpe Community Forum.
They have not only stopped much of the anti-social behaviour, but their efforts in brightening up and cleaning up the area and launching numerous environmental projects have also resulted in a regional Yorkshire in Bloom prize.
The discretionary award for ‘community champion’ went to Roger Marsh, aged 70, who chairs the forum.
He insisted, though: “It’s in my name but it is for the forum. I have not done all the work on my own!”
The organisation now has more than 300 members, although the number of particularly active members is around 20.
It was established three years ago and began to work with the council, police and local MP Clive Betts.
“When the anti-social behaviour started, they were getting the top hand,” said Roger. “But now we have got a community that is well organised and any anti-social behaviour is soon stamped on. It has quietened down, although it occasionally flares up.
“In the first year there was a lot of networking and trying to work out things. Since then we have been involved in a lot of environmental projects supported by council environmental planning officer Sally Pereira and the Sheffield Landscape Trust.”
Street planters were installed around the suburb, dry stone walls restored and litter picking was organised. “I think our area is the cleanest in Sheffield from a litter point of view,” said Roger.
Particularly noticeable was the introduction of Highland cattle which were brought from Graves Animal Park to graze on derelict farmland. Once the cattle have been moved to another field, it encourages the growth of wild flowers on the fields they have left behind.
Roger, who lives with wife Heather in Cranford Drive, Owlthorpe, is a retired international project manager for steelworks and power plants and he says his project management experience has proved valuable with the forum.
“We are fairly senior members of the community,” he said. “People who work just don’t have the time during the week.”
He was “dumbfounded” to be listed in the regional awards which also resulted in a silver gilt for the forum after judges twice visited the area. “We have only been involved in Yorkshire in Bloom for three years,” he said.
There is still plenty of work to do – one of the latest projects is a heritage and nature trail through ancient woodland, including new footpaths and bridleways – and cutbacks in council grants will not hold back the volunteers or their enthusiasm.
“We have got to cut our cloth but it is not stopping anything. It might slow things down a bit in places and we’ll have to negotiate that. But when there is an upturn we’ll be ready to take advantage.”