Festival sees plenty of fun tales from the riverbank

Riverlution Festival: Raft racers approach the finish line avoiding flour bombs as they go
Riverlution Festival: Raft racers approach the finish line avoiding flour bombs as they go

AFTER centuries of steel and wire factories, clay pipe production, sugar refining, brewing and more, the site of the vegetable gardens of Sheffield Castle has been reopened as a city centre ‘pocket park.’

“This is the first time people have been able to get access to the river in the city centre since before the industrial revolution,” said city development manager and river enthusiast Simon Ogden. If they know what they’re doing, they could even launch their boats into the Don.

Nursery Street, named after the castle nursery gardens, was closed to traffic on Sunday to mark the opening of the new riverside ‘pocket park’ by Lord Mayor John Campbell with the support of Coun Chris Rosling-Josephs.

“The combination of the river and new modern developments reminds me of places in Amsterdam,” said Chris Rosling-Josephs. “Spaces like this give people confidence in the city, and I’d like to see our rivers opened up more. We should use our waterways better, rather than just having them running down a culvert.”

The ‘Riverlution Festival’ also saw the official opening of the new flood defences stretching through the city centre to Corporation Street created by the council and the Environment Agency.

The new river walls have been incorporated into public spaces where possible, using artworks and landscaping - the local Art Forge group created a special mural along Nursery Street.

Sunday’s Nursery Street festival included music from the gospel choir of the local New Testament Church, work starting on a new sculpture by Andrew Vickers (Canute - which will be lost and revealed as the water rises and falls) and a fly fishing demonstration.

There was also the return of the River Don Raft Race, last seen during 1980s Rag Weeks, before the river quality at the time grounded the event. Now the river is host to trout and kingfishers, the rafters were able to brave the river as before, while being pelted with flour bombs.

“What better way to promote the RipRap charity than floating down the river with two massive flags,” said Alan Easter, from Nursery Street web designers Arkom, raft racing in aid of the Sheffield based charity for young people coping with cancer in their families. The water was (expletive) freezing,” he added.

A floury Dave Berry from the Sheffield Renewables raft was in accord: “(Expletive) cold.

“We wanted to show what we can do with the River Don apart from make electricity with it,” he shivered, adding that the Sheffield Renewables community share issue to build a weir driven power station further up the Don has just launched, with £18,000 towards the £200,000 target already raised.

“In the past the working on the river caused damage to it, but now we have the opportunity to use the Don, preserve its quality, and still get something productive off it.”

The south facing pocket park off Nursery Street will soon be planted with weeping willows, there’ll be seating from recycled tree trunks, and a flower meadow next year. Simon Ogden said the space was already proving popular with the 2,000 or so people working nearby, adding that new developments in place for Nursery Street will soon add to the number of businesses and workers in the area.

The closure of the now fairly calm Nursery Street also showed how the street may be used in future: the council is looking at how far to narrow and pedestrianise the riverside road, with the possibility of further pocket parks.

“Whenever we have the opportunity, we want to get more of these,” said Simon.

The day also saw the launch of the city’s new Waterways Strategy, titled ‘City of Rivers’, put together by a partnership of agencies and groups.

“We want to make our rivers accessible and well managed for the future,” said Simon. “Climate change means we’ll have more heavy rain and high water and more drought, so we all need to take responsibility to look after our rivers more carefully.”

He noted how the rivers also attract regeneration. “We now have some of the city’s biggest corporate employers down here by the river, but they wouldn’t have dreamed of locating here 20 years ago when the river was just an embarrassment.”

The Waterways strategy has very ambitious plans, some of which are already happening: a new section of the Upper Don Walk is almost complete, between Club Mill Lane and Wardsend cemetery, for example.

Nearby, the Brooklyn Bridge plan may have been shelved, but Simon insists there will eventually be a bridge of some sort near the Fat Cat pub.

In a year, when the markets have moved, archaeologists will find what’s left of Sheffield Castle, built at the meeting point of the rivers Don and Sheaf, long lost in a culvert.

“Anything of interest will be made visible,” said Simon. “The site will probably be for living and working, it will be a green space and the remains of the castle will be a focal point. But there’s another 500 years of history after the castle, and so after Christmas 2013 we might be able to take the culvert off and reveal where the Don and Sheaf meet, and bring out that this site is where the story of Sheffield and it’s industry starts.”