Why we need Burley Spa to remain in the community

Sheffield Council is planning to sell Birley Spa to a private buyer to be turned into a private dwelling or offices.

By Joy Bullivant
Tuesday, 30 July, 2019, 14:56
Birley Spa Maypole dancing by the pond

Quite apart from the fact that for the first time in 177 years the Spa will no longer be available to the public and it is unknown what the impact of severing it from the public park and ancient woodlands is, there are other consequences. It puts paid to any chance for the people of Birley to take charge and to use the Spa and grounds to improve the health and morale of the community. Birley could certainly do with a healthier lifestyle, as it is an area where relatively poor diet and lower than average levels of physical activity is reflected in the highest levels of obesity in Sheffield, leading to health problems. This is reflected in Birley’s average lifespan – shorter than elsewhere in the city.

There are approximately 841 households with older people living on their own in Birley, with a high proportion of older and less well off people with existing health conditions. It has been calculated that each could cost health and social care services up to £6,000 over 10 years.

Nationally GPs are seeing a sharp rise in under 16s seeking help for conditions such as depression and anxiety. Indications are that children from lower income families are more likely to be isolated with low self esteem and fewer opportunities to socialise outside school. Almost 25 per cent of children in Sheffield live in poverty.

Educational attainment levels in first years in Birley are in line with the rest of the city but then drop until they are the worst. Since educational attainment correlates strongly with health, this too is important when considering the health of the area. The Friends of Birley Spa solution is to draw on the assets of the Spa, adjoining park and woodland with partners to emphasise health and wellbeing.

A secondary focus is on education. On the adult front the WEA is already keen to take classes there. There are two schools in close proximity. Research has found outdoor learning can raise children’s attainment and leads to them being more engaged. Looking at the local history of the area is a way of creating local pride.

It is hard to conceive how changing the use of the Spa and removing it from public use can have anything but a negative impact on a beleaguered Birley and stifle the ability of the community to self improve. The Friends’ plan is frankly the best plan there has been in Birley for years to improve the health and education of the local community and is likely to have a bigger impact than any top down approach.It is ironic the Friends may have to cancel their participation to Heritage Open Day due to the impending sale. The Theme of HOD is people power.