Festival gives visitors plenty of fun, weirdness and vegetable characters

Walkley Festival Launch: Madame Zucchini and Peter Parsnip performing a vegetable drama on Walkley Green with Iona (left) and Eve (both 9) Zobble (left) and Rhubarbandcustard
Walkley Festival Launch: Madame Zucchini and Peter Parsnip performing a vegetable drama on Walkley Green with Iona (left) and Eve (both 9) Zobble (left) and Rhubarbandcustard

Vegetable actor Peter Parsnip was preparing for his possible forthcoming roles in Romeo and Juliet and Star Wars: The Parsnip Menace.

St Osbeart, the paper-skinned community care bear, was readying himself for two weeks of hard work around the streets and slopes of north west Sheffield, and Grenville Wilkinson and his fellow community activists were sheltering from the showers on the ‘village’ green. The 12th Walkley Festival was experiencing a typically ‘eclectic’ launch last Saturday.

“Walkley is eclectic,” said Grenville, who’s lived in the area with wife Ann for 45 years. “There’s a real mix of shops at Walkley, you can get practically everything here. But we don’t want to get too many bistros and restaurants like Ecclesall Road.”

The Walkley Community Forum, the local shops and businesses and churches and, most importantly, the people of the hilly suburb have helped keep the festival going over the last 12 years, and this year’s is bigger and better than ever, said Grenville. “We have a new well dressing this year, along with the Ruskin Park fun day, the pantomime horse race, the Lodge House and Buddhist Centre open days, the art festival, and an Edwardian night at Cabaret Boom Boom,” he said listing only some of the festival highlights.

“There’s all sorts of weirdness,” added Madame Zucchini, approvingly.

The Madame is no stranger to weirdness, and her vegetable-based entertainments have been a key part of the festival for many years, with sculpted vegetables and more durable knitted stand-ins offering a version of Star Wars, Super Spud and/or Harry Potter and the Cabbage of Doom at the forthcoming fun day (Leek Skywalker, Chewbroccoli and Darth Tater are already in rehearsal).

The Madame, aka Natalie Hunt, accepts that at only 19 years of residence she is very much an incomer, but notes that the suburb is doing very well at present. “I think the shopkeepers have been brave, and are certainly catering for incomers. They may have thought Walkley won’t stand anything but a proper shop, but you can get organic meat here now at the farm shop, and you can even get lavender shortbread.”

Grenville added: “Walkley is certainly holding its own. There are only 2% of empty shops at the moment.”

The boundaries between Walkley, Hillsborough, Crookes and Commonside are blurring, and there’s now a real mix of people in Walkley, all of which is helping local shops survive.

The community groups are busy too, creating new public green spaces on South and Freedom Roads, and a new Amey grant secured by Grenville ready to spruce up the floral displays around the area. There’s even a team of ‘guerrilla gardeners’ making their own mark on local open spaces. The community has also come together to challenge the feared closure of Walkley library.

“We got over 1,200 signatures after the strong rumour it was going to close,” said Grenville. “Three local schools depend upon it, and it’s a social meeting place for people. We would love it to stay open and have said we’d work in partnership with anyone who would like to keep it open.”

Natalie said: “There is a range of opinion, from people saying they would chain themselves to this or that to those with a more pragmatic approach.

“It may not do anything, but I think it’s important for us to challenge the council’s rather poor leadership.”

The well-organised community has now gathered enough funding and voluntary help from local people and businesses to keep the Walkley festival going for this year and next.

“It’s a necessary approach at present with outside funding as easily available, as Grenville puts it, “as rocking horse manure”.

Walkley Festival continues until July 7, with the programme available from local shops and centres.

“I’d encourage people to come up and have a look round,” said Grenville.

“They’ve been coming from as far away as Woodhouse,” said Madame Zucchini. “Even from Ecclesall.”