Meet the women on a mission to visit and share all of Sheffield's parks

“We’ll rock up and say ‘Wow!’ and start scurrying around these green spaces, and I sometimes imagine a nearby dog walker thinking, ‘Whoaa, who are these girls who don’t belong here with their southern accents and white board sign?’” said Jenni Sayer. “They might well be confused by these two excited girls running around their park.”

Thursday, 6th May 2021, 12:00 am
Jenni Sayer (left) with son Emlyn with Sheffield Park Project colleague Laura Appleby and daughter Sophie in Meersbrook Park.

This is the Sheffield Park Project, and like so much enthusiasm for The Outdoor City, comes from folk who only see how special this place is because they weren’t born here.When considering moving from her Norwich home to study at the University of Sheffield Jenni was warned by her dad that it was grim up north. “He said you can’t move to Sheffield, have you not seen The Full Monty?” she reflected. But she came anyway.“I was in halls near Endcliffe Park and I was bowled over by how green it was, there were trees everywhere you looked, and you were always above or below something. It was amazing!”We Sheffielders tend to forget about our green hills and valleys, until someone unused to such urban landscapes reminds us.

And that’s one of the tasks Jenni and friend Laura Appleby set themselves four years ago when they launched the Sheffield Park Project (and this month a new ‘Sheffield Park’ app).“The idea is for local people to discover and engage with green spaces, especially ones they don’t know about,” said Laura.

The app, designed by their friend Tim Cropper-Williams, has been soft-launched for iPhone now, with the Android version coming very soon, said Laura.“People can search for nearby parks, or for a park with a cafe and tennis court, for example. But we also want people to contribute their local knowledge. It’s a really collaborative community project, and as more people contribute, we hope to build a really extensive database of green spaces in Sheffield.”Of which there are many hundreds, they’ve discovered, ranging from the wild heath of Blackamoor to the four metre wide Armstead Road Garden in Beighton.Many of Sheffield’s voluntary Friends groups have already helped the project, and while Laura says there seems to be an increase in groups setting up, some existing groups worry people may have drifted away while onsite work stopped during the pandemic.

Park Hill Flats from South Street Park.

“We’d like to help them attract new members, because we know some groups may only have six active members, where the youngest is 72, for example.” Joining a Friends group can work for younger people too, she adds, since most don’t ask for any particular level of commitment.“They often say we’re having a litter pick next weekend, just come along if you can.” The Park Project is also voluntary, both Laura and Jenni work in Sheffield, and usually explore parks on weekend mornings, sometimes now with their two year olds, Sophie and Emlyn.When they’ve been able to get out over the last year, they’ve noticed a big increase in park users, with parks now being seen as social as well as recreational spaces, which could mean more commercial enterprises, like coffee vans, there.

The value of green spaces is clear, Jenni says, and there needs to be more government investment.She’s aware of the concerns about safety in parks, and thinks the answer lies in better education to prevent abuse. “Women shouldn’t have to avoid public spaces,” she said. “Personally I’ve felt more comfortable walking through the parks after dark since the pandemic because they’ve been busier.”Now, it’s time to discover new places, say Jenni and Laura, whether it’s the community feel of Abbeyfield Park, the spectacular woods of Gleadless, the picnic spots of Manor Fields or the ‘amazing, hairs on my arms standing up’ Jurassic Park qualities of Whinfell Quarry Gardens. And then share your finds with the Sheffield Park Project app, or on social media.“This project has let me explore a city I’ve adopted, and love very very much. It’s an extraordinarily beautiful city, and as I travel round, there’s nothing I see that doesn’t make me think more and more that Sheffield is a beautiful city,” said Jenni. “I know it has its problems, but it’s gorgeous, and we’re really lucky to live here.”Visit https://sheffieldparkproject.com

Heeley People's Park in 2015.
Jenni Sayer (right) with Sheffield Park Project colleague Laura Appleby at Norfolk Park pre 2020.
Graves Park Arboretum and Wlidlife Meadow.
Jenni Sayer (left) with Sheffield Park Project colleague Laura Appleby at Rother Valley Park.
Meersbrook Park.