FEATURE: Sheffield community bouncing back after series of violent clashes between rival gangs

Youngsters playing basketball in Burngreave.
Youngsters playing basketball in Burngreave.

The Spital Hill area of Burngreave hit the headlines recently for all the wrong reasons.

Residents told how they took cover as rival groups of Kurdish and Somalian men brawled in the street, leaving one with gunshot wounds and another with stab injuries.

Inspector Shakeel Ahmed, Imam Ayoub and Dr Alan Billings.

Inspector Shakeel Ahmed, Imam Ayoub and Dr Alan Billings.

But proud community leaders are determined to show that there is another side to the area. One in which people from different countries and backgrounds can work together to make their community a better place.

Reporter Lee Peace interviewed a few of the good-heated people trying to make a difference.

It is true that a mass brawl involving up to 30 Kurdish and Somalian men struck fear into the community recently.

Shopkeepers were forced to quickly pull the shutters down as the street descended into mayhem outside and left a 33-year-old man with gunshot wounds. This all happened in mid June – just two days after a previous brawl in which a 17-year-old boy was stabbed.

Residents at the 'More in Common Big Lunch' event.

Residents at the 'More in Common Big Lunch' event.

Residents claimed it was all to do with a turf war between rival drug gangs.

But since the shocking incidents, police, faith leaders and community workers have joined forces in a bid to reclaim their community from the grasp of these roguish gangs.

And a common thread that emerges from people on the ground is that the issues blighting the area are down to a few bad individuals, not the majority.

Following the attacks, youngsters at the nearby Pitsmoor Adventure Playground – many of which live close to Spital Hill - decided to create signs calling for 'peace and love' in the area.

Youngsters with their peace and love signs.

Youngsters with their peace and love signs.

Patrick Meleady, playground manager, said: “When the children heard there had been violence breaking out locally they spontaneously came up with the idea of creating some pictures and messages of peace. They just want to spread peace and love.

He added: “We've got children here from Britain, Slovakia, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan... lots of kids who were born here and many who have migrated here from far and wide.

“We provide a welcoming safe haven to all of them, when children play together the differences disappear, they learn about each other by having fun instead.”

In addition people from all different walks of life joined together recently for a 'More in Common Big Lunch' event, in which they enjoyed food, drinks and music.

Patrick Meleady.

Patrick Meleady.

Yanina Koszalinski, chair of trustees for the playground, added: “It is second nature to us to celebrate our diversity and the values we share, why would we focus on what divides us?

“We've had decades of people arriving from different parts of the world, there's a real community spirit around here. The recent attacks are nothing to do with religion or ethnic background. It's not tribal, it's a few individuals from impoverished communities fighting over the scraps.

“Most of the problems we have are down to poverty and lack of opportunity, that's when you get people turning to drugs and crime.”

Fran Belbin, finance and funding manager for the playground, added: “It's important for people to get the chance to meet those from different walks of life if they're all going to respect each other.

"We invite lots of visitors to meet our children, musicians, artists, sportspeople, the blue light services, business people and politicians, so that everybody understands each other better.”

The Sheffield Futures group was keen to emphasise that youngsters from all different ethnic backgrounds regularly attend two weekly basketball sessions run at the All Saints Youth Club in Burngreave. Such is the demand, this will be expanded to three sessions a week over the summer.

The sign at Spital Hill.

The sign at Spital Hill.

Joanne Holt, community youth team manager for North Sheffield, said: “We take a lot of referrals and there is a demand for our services in the whole north east area. Young people get a lot of bad publicity, but they are our society’s future and what we need to do as a city is take the time to invest in them.

“Burngreave is a brilliant place to work, it’s a great community feel and nothing is too much trouble for anyone.

“There are many community groups in the area who have been able to secure funding to deliver additional activities.

“The whole community is working together to ensure there are many opportunities for young people from the area.”

But while winning hearts and minds through community projects is important, the recent rise in crime has also required a show of force from police.

A new team consisting of one sergeant and four PCs have been moved into a new base at the Sorby Centre.

This has resulted in extra patrols by armed officers, while presentations about the dangers of knife crime have also been given at the nearby Parkwood Academy.

Knife arches – metal detectors that can detect if someone is carrying a blade – were also sited there but no weapons were found.

South Yorkshire's police and crime commissioner Dr Alan Billings recently paid a visit to see Imam Ayoub at the Kurdish Mosque in the Firdaws Trust Centre to learn about how faith leaders are reaching out to different communities in a bid to build bridges.

And he was pleased with what he saw: “We spent time discussing the diverse communities within Spital Hill and how closely they are all pulling together.”

Sergeant Lee Kayne, from the Burngreave problem solving team, said that while the situation is improving, there is still plenty of work to be done.

He added: “Every day we have officers out and about, walking around the area and talking to people.

"We also host a number of meetings which members of the public are invited to share any worries they may have and to meet other residents.

“We also have a drop in surgery every week, as well as two engagement buses staffed by PCSOs in the area.

“The problem solving team is still in its early stages however we’re already working incredibly hard to meet our initial objectives, which include lowering incidents of knife crime and reducing antisocial behaviour.

“We hope that this will contribute significantly towards our longer-term goals to build and improve on community integration.”