Our 1st birthday!
A year after we started, we return to one of our early stories
Good afternoon readers. It was a year ago today — during the second national Covid lockdown — that we sent out The Tribune’s very first weekly briefing. That first edition featured a piece about Sheffield’s forthcoming governance referendum and another about the closure of John Lewis. It also had a lovely photo of the old Pond Street bus station and an obituary for Alma Ingle. And it went out to…200 people.
I was still working at The Star at the time, and The Tribune was very much an experiment to see if people might enjoy a different kind of local journalism: slower; more thoughtful; and much less covered in ads. After seeing how positively readers were reacting to the first stories, I decided to switch to Trib-ing full time, and instead of working for a big media company, I was suddenly working for you, our readers.
Fast forward 12 months and we now have more than 7,500 people on our mailing list and 621 fantastic paying members. In the past year we’ve put out just south of 200 newsletters covering everything from politics to history, art to theatre, music, sport and heritage. Some of the articles I’ve been most proud of have been our look at the magistrates’ courts system and how it fails homeless people and my piece about the 60th birthday of the Gleadless Valley.
We’ve been able to commission more than 20 local journalists to contribute freelance work, all of which is paid. Some of my favourites from our contributors have been Sophie Atkinson’s wonderful piece about Sheffield documentary Tales from a Hard City, and Nicholas Booth’s terrifying story about the nuclear war film Threads. From the many lovely emails and comments under our stories, we have got to know many of you, and have seen how much you are valuing the journalism we do. I know that writing something online, even in a comment under a piece, can feel like slotting a message in a bottle and flinging it into the ocean. Do we get your feedback or is it left bobbing on the seas of the internet? So please know this: reading your messages have really kept me going and encouraged me, as well as being interesting for other readers — do keep them coming!
Getting a new title off the ground certainly hasn’t always been easy and we’ve learned a lot along the way. Doing this largely on my own has been tough at times, and I look forward to the day — hopefully later this year — when we have enough revenue from members that we can employ a second member of staff to share the load. But as a result of the incredible support you have all shown us, we’ve made The Tribune into a news source that is on track to become financially sustainable in the next few months. We’re here to stay and it can’t be stressed enough: that’s thanks to you.
To mark our first birthday, and because I’m the sentimental sort, I thought I’d return to one of the first stories we sent out. Back in April, a few days after our first briefing, we published a story about the community gardens of Meersbrook. Last year I met Judy Stewart, who was helping to create a walking map of all the volunteer-run gardens in the area. There, I saw a community that had come together during Covid to make their neighbourhood more beautiful. The Tribune has grown a lot over the last year, so I wanted to see how the gardens of Meersbrook had grown too.
Returning to Meersbrook
“I can't believe I’m in a vest top in March,” Judy says as we set off from her Argyle Road home. She’s also sporting a bright yellow visor and we’re both in shorts. We look as though we should be walking around Majorca, not Meersbook. As we wander, Judy says hello to everyone we meet. Many of them are walking, running and riding around their neighbourhood — others are simply happy to sit outside their houses soaking up the Vitamin D.
Like last year we start in the garden which lies between Argyle Road and Upper Valley Road. The sun has ushered in spring a few weeks earlier than the last time I visited. Two beautiful pink flowering currant trees are in full bloom and under siege from a team of large bumblebees. Down the hill at Kent Road community garden, blackcurrant bushes and fruit trees are budding while in the “pocket pond” next door, frogs ribbit and splash among the reeds.
Things have moved on since the last time I visited. As we take a detour up Rushdale Road, Judy shows me a small patch of grass at the end of the street that is about to become the area’s fourteenth community garden. It doesn’t immediately seem like an obvious candidate: the area looks a bit exposed to the bigger road and feels liable to people walking across it. But the day after I’m sent some photos of volunteers busily working on the site making beds and planting bushes.
The volunteers used to be a loose amalgamation of different projects, but the walking map they launched last September has had the effect of drawing them together into a more coherent organisation: the Meersbrook and Heeley Community Gardens Association. This body has a proper constitution and key roles including chair, secretary and treasurer, meaning they can do things like apply for funding. They have also raised around £500 via crowdfunding to pay for public liability insurance.
Judy says there is talk of setting up a city-wide network of community gardens. But so much about voluntary work is dependent on the personalities involved. “There is such a mixture of things that have to come together to make a garden work,” she tells me. “But the map has definitely had the effect of bringing us together. When people say thank you it makes us want to do it more.”
After Rushdale Road, we head to Brooklyn Road community garden (or “dog poo corner” as it was formerly known), followed by Anne’s community garden over the other side of Chesterfield Road behind B&M Bargains. All the sites I see have changed and grown in the last year. Anne’s has a new wall mural as their battle with local graffiti artists continues, while Brooklyn Road has a new pond — although the frogs don’t seem to have found it yet.
I only make it round six of the 14 gardens until the siren call of the beer garden becomes too insistent for me to ignore. Meersbrook Park’s magnificent walled garden is closed on Saturdays and there are also sites on Woodbank Crescent and six more in nearby Heeley. As I wrote last year, all the gardens have their own distinct characters: from the spacious surroundings of Heeley People’s Park to Kent Road’s tiny pocket pond and everything in between. The map can be followed to take in all 14 if you want to, with handy amenities like bus stops and pubs highlighted as well.
Thanks to their hard work and commitment, the community garden volunteers of Meersbrook and Heeley have built something which has the chance to endure. The gardens still need a lot of nurturing and if they are to grow further, they will need more people to help and more resources behind them. But the reaction they elicit from people proves to them they are doing something which is worthwhile. That’s pretty much the same way we feel about The Tribune. I hope you do, too.
If you’re financially able to, please join us as a member today. It costs just £1.34 a week if you pay for the year up front. You’ll receive two extra members-only editions each week (think: culture, politics and great recommendations), and we’ll be all the stronger for your support — and we hope Sheffield will be, too.