Sheffield residents debate importance of community groups

For our latest Telegraph Voices feature we ask 'How important are community groups in society?’

Wednesday, 10th July 2019, 8:33 am
Danny PiermattiMBE.

Danny Piermatti MBE, a member of the Action for Stannington group 

The motto: "A Clean, Green and Safe neighbourhood" in use at our organisation reflects a desire which is shared by any group of people anywhere and at anytime in history.

Danny PiermattiMBE.

In today's world, technology is a useful aid which facilitates the day-to-day operations in our lives, however it does not change our human nature.

Even in the technological age, as children we still need to play and learn in a safe environment, fall in love and look for a partner as adults, build the ‘nest’ and feel secure, enjoying a dignified retirement in older age.

In a fast evolving society, the quality of the surrounding environment can affect our mood, health and perception of society.

Care for the environment is a crucial factor towards social cohesion.

Patrick Meleady.

A neighbourhood based group such as Action for Stannington plays a very important role in making so many members of such a varied community feel that they all have a role to play in looking after their area.

Irrespective of whether householders participate in the structured environmental group activities we organise, there are many ways in which residents can contribute on a day-to-day basis.

For example, we supply ‘litter clean up’ kits to look after your doorstep, a ‘good dog scheme’ in which over 100,000 dog waste bags are distributed each year, two popular recycling points within our neighbourhood.

In a modern age of digital technology we can also increase our participation in democracy by becoming active members of our community.

FOPV chair Ann Le Sage. Picture: Marie Caley NSST Endcliffe Duck Race MC 11

Therefore at Action for Stannington we invite our fellow residents to use the Love Clean Street app by the Tidy Britain Group, to easily communicate with the local authority for any matter regarding highway issues, parks and countryside, waste and recycling.  

Our interactive Facebook page provides a range of information related to the work of the volunteers, the local policing team, events and activities by organisations and statutory bodies.

However the advancement of the digital technology is also causing the polarisation of groups within society, a neighbourhood based organisation needs to reflect the demographics of the area they serve.

Everyone should benefit from the ‘feel good’ factor that an active environment group brings to the area, together contributing to a cleaner, greener and safe neighbourhood.

Group chairman Peter Sephton.

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Patrick Meleady, who helps to run Pitsmoor Adventure Playground

Pitsmoor Adventure Playground has been operational since 1970. It has been a vital community hub and open access play facility for children, young people and families in the Burngreave area and further afield also. 

Over the years, hundreds of thousands of children and young people have come through the gates, and over the last five years alone, we are dealing when open with up to 200 children and young people attending the provision. 

In this digital age, play continues not only to be a fundamental right for children and young people, it is essential for their learning, development and overall well-being.

Whilst children and young people live today in an ever-encroaching risk averse world, adventure playgrounds provide them also with the chances of taking risks, assessing those risks and managing those risks. This skill is vital for being able to navigate through life safely and  this includes supporting them with digital safety.

As a community resource, Pitsmoor Adventure Playground in addition to the above, also provides community services for families, including adult education classes, early intervention and family support, diversionary  activities for young people at risk of crime and support to their parents’ carers, as well as more specialised forms of support for vulnerable children and their families.

A core area of our work also, is the promotion of  communication, using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. We link to other community digital networks and platforms as well, as delivering face-to-face and paper engagements.  Our children and young people value these engagements and being included in press, radio and other media coverage, especially as many, due to poverty have no access to digital technology and media in their homes.   Pitsmoor Adventure Playground undertakes partnership working for example with the  Burngreave Messenger, the tenants and residents’ association and Burngreave Universal Credit to challenge disadvantage and to secure improvements, this includes access to digital resources for local people.

Keeping abreast of digital developments is also vital in playwork. Pitsmoor Adventure Playground is a major community contributor and influencer, for the good of the area and all its people as well as for Sheffield as a whole.

Ann Le Sage, Chairman of Friends of the Porter Valley 

The environment charity Friends of the Porter Valley celebrates 25 years this summer - 25 years improving and restoring the heritage and the landscape of the unique four mile corridor of parks, woodlands and pastures running up the Porter Brook from Hunters Bar roundabout.

Startiung from nothing we now have about 640 members and all our practical outdoor work and community fundraising is invested here for Sheffield people and visitors to enjoy.

I am so very very proud of what FoPV's unpaid volunteers do! Sheffield's listed landscapes and natural habitats are precious and our twice monthly outdoor conservation work, our monthly walks, quarterly public meetings, and an active Facebook, website and Twitter combo, have raised people's awareness of the need to maintain and improve what we have.

And it is fun! There is nothing quite like the community spirit at our annual Easter Monday Duckrace in Endcliffe Park and at our Christmas fairs around Forge Dam.

Precious too is our Sheffield industrial heritage: FoPV drove the campaign to restore Shepherd Wheel cutlers' grinding shop.

That would have disappeared like every other early water powered mill in Sheffield and thanks to our volunteers and engineers from the Sheffield Industrial Museum this gem is turning and open again for all to see at weekends and bank holidays.

Still nearly 30,000 visitors a year even six years after the restoration. Our next crucial project is to restore Forge Dam, now appallingly silted up, and celebrate its builder, Thomas Boulsover, the man whose C18 invention launched a century of Sheffield silver plate manufacturing.

And we always have a flow of issues to sort: Bingham sports facilities and Hunters Bar entrance deserve to be upgraded. Paths, steps, drains, goits and the Porter itself need maintenance.

Questions from the public and our colleagues in the council need answers: on planning and planting, litter and graffiti, signage and clashes of interest groups, identification of animals and plants. The future is ours to shape not ignore.

Peter Sephton, Chairman of Changing Sheff

Do we really trust the people in charge of organisations that run our society to do things in the interest of the public?

Unfortunately we seem to live in a society where incompetence and unwillingness to listen are the norm. The personal touch has largely disappeared in favour of computer-based decisions, staff cuts and phone banks with long waiting times to get through.

These are just a few of the reasons why community groups have a vital role to play in modern society. Regrettably the people who are supposed to make things work are either too stretched, badly managed, incompetent, disinterested or too bloody-minded to make the changes needed to run things properly.

Which is why, in 2012, we created a residents association for Sheffield City Centre called SCCRAG - Sheffield City Centre Residents Action Group.

We will have been viewed, especially by council officers, as a complaining group and we certainly believe there has been much to complain about! In the seven years since then, some things have improved but there is still much to do.

This year we changed our name to reflect less of a complaining organisation and more of a creative approach by adopting the name Changing Sheff simply because we do have lots of ideas to make our city centre more interesting, attractive and a great place to live.

We don’t just complain - we aim to change the centre for the better!

So what kind of things have bugged us this past seven years? Loss of canopies on The Moor. The redevelopment of The Moor is one of the best things happening in our city but what kind of an architect or developer renovates buildings by knocking down rain protection canopies for shoppers when climate change is making our weather much wetter than before?

Then there is traffic management and parking. If you live outside the centre you may find it strange that we are concerned about parking and although we use our cars much less than average, we still need somewhere to keep them.

Developers don’t like the cost of digging underground to add parking and the council doesn’t think cars should be encouraged, so we have weakness by the council to force developments to have adequate underground parking. Why can other cities, especially in Europe, solve this challenge, but not Sheffield?

Most towns managed to keep their castle ruins, and turn them into a tourist attraction but Sheffield has a reputation for knocking down historic buildings buildings like the Old Town Hall, which has a vital role in the Castle tourism redevelopment. Only the friends group have been willing to struggle, with little council help, to keep it from falling down.

So what has Changing Sheff been doing to make improvements? We were the catalyst in 2014 for the Help-us-Help scheme that now coordinates support from more than 20 organisations for the street community.

With 60,000 generous students plus the public donating to people willing to beg, the city centre can be a lucrative place to sit.

There is still much to do, but we now have one of the best support networks in the country and there is no reason why anyone needs to sit on the street, if they will accept the support on offer. In May we arranged a demonstration of a musical pocket park in Fountain Square at Barker’s Pool, where people of all ages and abilities can come together to make music.

To retain its popularity the city centre has to attract people as tourists and while this may not be the usual way to regard our centre, Meadowhall has taken much of the regional shopping, so we have to look for a different offering, still with shopping involved.

What do community groups do? They fill the gaps in society that people think are needed to create social cohesion. They call authority to account.