Festival celebration as Heeley set for changes

Heeley Festival 2012: Freya Chidavaenzi (7) with Gizmo the parrot from Parrot Aid
Heeley Festival 2012: Freya Chidavaenzi (7) with Gizmo the parrot from Parrot Aid

The rain was no deterrent to the people of Heeley on Saturday as an estimated 5,000 visitors took part in the music, dancing and farmer’s market on the hillside above the River Sheaf.

“By this time I’m beginning to heave a sigh of relief,” said Andy Jackson of Heeley Development Trust in mid-afternoon.

Andy and the Trust were part of the team who’ve spent several months organising the annual festival, which has taken place in Heeley for more than 30 years.

“The main thing I’ve seen as I’ve walked round is lots of people smiling despite the rain.

“People do come from all over Sheffield but it’s still massively a local event where people expect to come and see their neighbours and friends.”

This year the festival was run by HEAT, a partnership between Heeley Development Trust, Heeley City Farm, Heeley Parish Church and Anns Grove Primary School.

Attractions included three music venues showcasing local acts ranging from 14-year-old indie rockers Tandem to classical singer Max Thorpe, around 200 community, food and business stalls, a farmer’s market, a local history display, a parade and various activities in and around the Heeley Millennium Park.

The festival was also a chance to show off the area, said Andy. The park, for example, is now recognised as a national flagship project for a green space run and owned by the local community following grants from the Big Lottery Community Spaces scheme and others.

New footpaths and a playground overhaul were already on show, along with a new off-road cycle skills track.

This year the whole park will also become a climbing facility, said Andy, as new climbing boulders are added, along with real stones and boulders from the Peak District for climbers old and new.

“There’ll be natural stone of all sorts of different shapes and sizes so anyone can get an experience of the Peak District – it’s very exciting.”

The other change coming to Heeley soon, he said, was the long-awaited start of renovation work on the old Anns Grove school building, which the Trust has been trying to turn into a community space for several years.

“We hope the lease will finally be signed this week,” said Andy.

“That’s seven years late and it’s been incredibly frustrating.

“There’s been an ongoing dialogue with all the parties involved, but the tragic thing is that we all wanted the project to happen but because of bureaucracy and risk aversion, restoring the buildings is now a £5 million project and not a £200,000 project, because of all the deterioration over that time. There’s such beautiful stuff in there and all the building work is millimetre-perfect after 200 years. We hope now Anns Grove will have a life of another 200-300 years but we almost lost it.”

The Trust has already raised £3million and has another £2million to find to complete work on all three buildings, Andy said, adding that the aim is to turn the three listed buildings into spaces for small businesses, craftspeople and artists, meeting and training areas for local people, a bike hub for the local Recycle Bikes company and others, and a cafe. There’ll also be flexible spaces for uses no-one has even thought about yet, he said.

“This time next year we will be having an art exhibition in Anns Grove,” said Andy confidently.

“We secured this funding at a time when we didn’t have a financial crisis and that’s to our advantage at a time when nothing is happening and no decisions are being taken.

“We’ve got things happening, which is great, and how we see it through and invest now is a challenge, but everyone has been very supportive in making sure we don’t have this derelict hulk in our midst.

“What we need is a tiny amount of money compared to what’s wasted or washed into offshore accounts, and using the analogy of what my Heeley gran used to say about her stew and dumplings not making you hungry any more, getting these buildings in use again is genuinely about sticking to the sides of this community.”

Visit www.heeleydevtrust.com for more information.