“Parkwood Springs used to be seen as a blot on the landscape,” said Sheffield Council community forest manager Tim Shortland, “but now it really is a country park in the centre of the city. To have a big green space where you can see out over the whole city is one of a kind in the country.”
The site was barren in the 1940s, said 79-year-old lifetime resident Ray Swift. “But it was our playground. My dad put me a bike together to go over the jumps in the quarry, and further up towards Owlerton we’d climb pyramids of stones from the tips and jump in the buckets swinging over on cables fifty feet in the air to the power station.”
On a sunny January morning, a stream of more modern mountain bikers descended the bike trail which opened at Parkwood four years ago, watched by a film crew.
“As soon as the commercial side really cotton on to the massive potential here it’s going to be amazing for the city,” said video maker Ed Birch of Salt Street Productions.
A partnership of locals, the council, conservation groups and landfill operators Viridor has accelerated the changes at Parkwood, said Neill Schofield chair of Friends of Parkwood Springs.
“Ten years ago, this was not somewhere to spend a pleasant Saturday morning. There was antisocial behaviour, with cars being set alight. But now I think this is a key part of the Outdoor City.”
There are now two big ‘step changes’ on the horizon, said Neill.
Firstly, the derelict ski village site is being offered up by the council for new developers looking at ideas suitable for a country park involving fresh air, exercise and improving health. Snow sports, mountain biking or even rope swing activities might work, said Neill, adding that a Yorkshire-based builder of modern artificial snow slopes is already taking an interest.
“We’re offering somebody the perfect opportunity to create a world-leading urban, outdoor attraction which embodies Sheffield’s standing as The Outdoor City,” said councillor Leigh Bramall, deputy leader of Sheffield City Council.
The second change follows the closure of the landfill site, with a long valley to the east of the site to be developed, perhaps over the next 18 months, for cyclists, walkers and people with pushchairs or wheelchairs to head north from Neepsend, with a series of ponds for wildlife and drainage. The Friends are pressing for this wide path to be extended through to Shirecliffe and Longley, replacing a right of way that’s too narrow and boggy for many potential visitors.
The Friends will continue their consultations as more of the landfill site is restored and handed back.
“It’s a lot better than when I was a kid,” said Ray Swift. “It’s wild and peaceful here, and we don’t want it too commercialised and turning into a circus. What we’re aiming for is a playground where we can all get along.”
To get involved: Friends of Parkwood Springs