Coming of age celebrations for Sheffield's people’s park

Heeley People’s Park is 21 this year, and celebrated its coming of age with the Big Boulder Festival last Sunday, with food, drink, a host of upcoming bands from across the north, and hundreds of neighbourhood festival-goers.

Thursday, 12th September 2019, 10:19 am
The Big Boulder Festival at Heeley People's Park: Ewart Morley on a climbing boulder
The Big Boulder Festival at Heeley People's Park: Ewart Morley on a climbing boulder

Parks are vital,” said Andy Jackson from Heeley Trust, who set up the green strip of hillside as a ‘Millennium Park’ just before the turn of the century.

“Park are our lungs, our flood and air quality management, our playgrounds and our health and wellbeing resources.

“They’re places for our communities to come together, and they’re essential,” he said. “In our opinion, you can’t have a vibrant, viable, successful neighbourhood without well looked after, loved green spaces.”

The Big Boulder Festival at Heeley People's Park:

The now maturing park at Heeley is on land once blighted by derelict housing, before a large lottery grant transformed the site into a nearly nine acre stretch of trees, meadows, festival spaces, bike tracks, climbing boulders and playgrounds run entirely by local people - the council are not involved.

The plan from the beginning was for the park to be manageable without external funding, said Andy. “For over twenty years, we’ve acted as if we were on our own.”

Which means that the park’s £20-30,000 per annum maintenance and running costs are generated by donations from park users, along with income from the buildings owned by Heeley Trust, including Sum Studios, where up to now 40 local businesses are plying their trade.

There are two part time park keepers, along with local volunteers who help keep the park shipshape - the GoodGym charity were on hand to collect litter at Sunday’s festival, for example.

The Big Boulder Festival at Heeley People's Park: Dilys Edwards at the Bandstand wool hut

The seventh Big Boulder festival was the biggest yet, with Doncaster’s Higher Rhythm music and media hub providing professional sound services for the six bands taking part, along with DJ sets from Heap of Faith.

The festival name came from the huge climbing boulders in the park.

David Morley watched as his youngsters scaled the Millennium Boulder, watched by climbing tutors from Beyond the Edge. “I didn’t know these were here, and I think it’s amazing that things like this are actually on our doorstep,” he said.

“Facilities like this are gold dust for young climbers, and having the Brothers Arms above the park is great for me too. I’m a convert to this place.”

The Big Boulder Festival at Heeley People's Park: Emily Baird climbing a tree

The park was always designed to provide adventurous play, said Andy Jackson, since not everyone has the opportunity to get out to the edges and bike trails of the Peak District.

“The Peak District is a wonderful resource, and it’s there for folk with cars and people who know to go there, but in the middle of Heeley and the middle of Sheffield not everyone has a car, and not every child has access to the Peak District. So they have access to this.”

He indicated the throng in front of him, where a handful of haggard cyclists were starting to amble towards the food stalls and beer tent.

Heeley is now a hub for adventure cycling, said Andy, adding that the Trust’s Recycle Bikes cycle repair, training and sales service will soon be relaunching from a refurbished showroom near the south end of the park.

The Big Boulder Festival at Heeley People's Park: sliding down the park's white horse

Earlier that morning, 70 bike riders set off from the hillside on either a 65 or 130 mile ‘audax’ ride around the southern corners of the Peak District and back, one of a series of long distance rides heading out from Heeley around the year under the All Points North banner.

Heeley as a centre for adventure seekers might have seemed far fetched a generation or two ago, but the home-made neighbourhood regeneration plan is working, said Andy (exemplified by a ‘people’s park’ subsidised by new businesses in old refurbished buildings).

“There is a national crisis in funding for green spaces, but here we’ve been able to link people and land and buildings to provide an income stream.”

The right policies to transfer the assets of old much loved local buddings into community use is an idea whose time has come, he suggested.

“My take is that if you provide a great environment, it makes a neighbourhood feel good and a community feel invested in.

“This kind of thing works.”

The Big Boulder Festival at Heeley People's Park: William Bridgeland climbing
The Big Boulder Festival at Heeley People's Park: listening to the music