How there are hopes boxing,  film nights and trips to Blackpool can help to bring this Sheffield community together

The demographic of some of Sheffield's communities have undergone huge change in recent years.

A Government report highlighted two years ago how an estimated 6,000 Roma and other eastern European immigrants have arrived to live in Page Hall.  

Colin Havard inside the centre.

Colin Havard inside the centre.

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Former Brightside and Hillsborough MP David Blunkett warned in 2013 that cultural tensions between different communities could ‘explode’ and expressed his fear it could lead to riots. 

More recently, in September this year, Fir Vale School was put on lockdown after a fight between students descended into what was described as a ‘riot’ between up to 150 people.

What is clear then is much needs to be done to improve community integration in this north eastern corner of the city.

The youth club room.

The youth club room.

There is a great need for a place where people from all nationalities, races and faiths can meet in safety.

There are high hopes that Grimesthorpe Family Centre - just half a mile from Page Hall and Fir Vale School – could be that place. 

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The Wansfell Road building is not much to look at at the moment. 

Grimesthorpe Family Centre.

Grimesthorpe Family Centre.

An old converted church hall that has stood for about 200 years, dwindling usage left its future in doubt in recent years. 

But trustees have been granted a 25-year lease on the building by the Diocese of Sheffield.

A £39,500 grant from Veolia Environmental Trust and £20, 000 from other funding sources is being used to replace the roof to help bring the building back to its former glory.

Community development coordinator Colin Havard, who has been working with trustees to improve the site, said: “The place used to be buzzing in the 70s and 80s. They had a bar and wedding receptions were often held here, but use gradually dropped off in the early 2000s.

Grimesthorpe Family Centre

Grimesthorpe Family Centre

“People in the community kept mentioning the centre to us. The pubs and churches are closing sadly so where else are people going to meet?

“There needs to be a central hub and this is it. It has huge potential.”

Mr Havard accepts that for long standing residents, such as British white people and families of Pakistani heritage that have lived locally for generations, an influx of immigrants from eastern Europe took some getting used to. 

Sheffield Council also recognised the issue and received Government funding to the tune of £100, 000 to look at how community relations can be improved.

There are signs that this work is already starting to pay off at the centre.  

Said Mr Havard: “We have launched boxing exercise classes which sees about 40 Roma children attend. That has been great for helping them to open up.

Grimesthorpe Family Centre

Grimesthorpe Family Centre

“If I go around asking questions with a clipboard then they close up, but if I have a chat while they are hitting a heavy bag or exercising then they are more likely to talk.

“Downstairs, there is a youth club which is predominantly attended by white kids.

“They are in different rooms but they are, at least, socialising in the same building, which is a start.” 

In the future there are plans for day trips and other social events to help bridge community divisions.    

“We may try and organise trips for them all to say Blackpool. It will be a bit segregated at first but over time I am sure they will make friends. We also thought about a film night showing Roma movies.

“But all of this for the community to shape and we will be asking for ideas.

“It is better for everyone if people are made to feel welcome, there is more chance that people will get on then.” 

He does, however, accept community integration takes time. 

“We live in a technological age where everyone wants things to happen immediately, but with this it will be a slow process.

“It usually takes a generation to go through school before you see big improvements so we will have to be patient, but we will get there.”

Community leaders are looking to capitalise on the gains made recently at the centre by refurbishing others parts of the building to unlock its full potential. 

While work is underway to improve the roof, trustees could do with a further £40, 000 to interior decorate tired rooms inside the building. The Victorian-era heating system also needs replacing.

Said Mr Havard: “If there are any rich business people out there or anyone who wants to make donations that would be fantastic.  

“The building is huge and there is so much that could be done with it.”   

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The work already done so far has won high praise from Gill Furniss, Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough MP, who described the centre as an “inspirational place supporting an incredibly mixed community which faces a lot of challenges.” 

Colin at the centre.

Colin at the centre.

Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough MP Gill Furniss

Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough MP Gill Furniss

Trouble at Fir Vale School.

Trouble at Fir Vale School.