Sheffield's sports facilities are getting a revamp. So why is it controversial?
Plus: A life drawing model surrounded by plants
Dear readers — welcome to our Monday briefing. Dan is away having some very well-earned rest, so it’s Victoria here writing today’s briefing for the first time. Please forgive any tiny deviations from Dan’s usual style but I hope I can get you briefed for the week ahead.
Our big story today: Like libraries, public sports facilities are hugely important to the communities that use them but rarely make much money for the councils that pay to run them. Last week, Sheffield City Council leader Tom Hunt told the BBC that Sheffield is “renowned for sport, leisure and entertainment” but admitted that many of our public facilities “need significant investment”. What’s he planning to do? We look at that below.
Plus, we bring you some great recommended reads, a lovely two-bed flat above a shop on Ecclesall Road and a classical music gig inspired by the “heavenly bodies”.
Catch up and coming up
For our weekend read, Dan visited Wath-upon-Dearne, a town near Rotherham where the stabbing of a woman has horrified some residents, even though South Yorkshire Police insist the crime never took place. Click below to read that.
Last week, we sent out two great newsletters to our paying members. In the first, Dan told you everything you need to know about the pagan Derbyshire tradition that saw Chesterfield go viral for a terrifying homage to the late Princess Diana. And in the second, our data reporter Daniel Timms tracked a year in the life of Sheffield’s waste. Last year, Sheffield produced 202,000 tonnes of the stuff — roughly equivalent to the weight of 20 Eiffel Towers — so where is it all going?
This week, members will get two more great pieces, including a look into why Sheffield has no “official” Pride celebration. To help fund a new way of doing journalism in Sheffield based on subscriptions rather than clickbait, please consider subscribing using the button below, if you’re not a member already. It costs £1.34 a week if you pay for 12 months upfront (that’s just 23p a day).
The big picture: Rainbow over the city 🌈
Thanks to Reddit user Alex for letting us use this photo of Sheffield’s weather getting into the Pride month spirit.
This week’s weather 🌦
Our weather forecast comes from dedicated Sheffield weather service Steel City Skies, who say low pressure is never too far away from northern Britain this week, with fresher and more changeable days to come.
Monday 🌦 A bright and breezy day from the west with some good spells of sunshine and a scattering of fast-paced showers. Highs of 22°C.
Tuesday 🌧 A warm front brings thicker cloud and a few spells of patchy rain, not amounting to much. Milder and muggier overnight with highs of 19°C.
Wednesday 🌦 Behind the front, we've got a number of disturbances set to bring showers or longer periods of rain after a bright start. Highs of 22°C.
Thursday ⛅️ Still the risk of the odd shower, but plenty of dry and bright weather to be had too. Fresher with highs of 21°C.
Friday 🌦 The breezy westerly pattern continues with a few more showers likely in between the brighter periods. Highs of 20°C and staying fresh.
Outlook: Likely to turn cooler, windier and less settled into the weekend, with rain likely, as low pressure crosses the North.
To see the full forecast and keep up to date with any changes to the outlook, follow Steel City Skies on Facebook.
The big story: Council pours money into Sheffield sports
Top line: Sheffield City Council plans to upgrade the city’s sports facilities, most notably by rebuilding three of its leisure centres in a multi-million-pound project announced last week. Earlier this month, councillors also agreed the next steps of programmes to revamp tennis courts and football pitches in a number of Sheffield’s public parks, although not everyone agrees that the planned changes will be an improvement. All in all, the council is planning to spend a lot of money — will its investment pay off?
The price tag: Last Thursday, the council announced it would spend £117m rebuilding three leisure centres — Springs, Concord and Hillsborough — and “upgrading” Sheffield Arena and City Hall. Earlier this month, the council also agreed to contribute £363,000 towards building an “activity hub” and improving sports facilities in Hillsborough Park. Finally, an unspecified amount of funding is being used to create a “PlayZone” in Ecclesfield Park, as part of a trial the council hopes will attract up to £2m in funding for further PlayZones from the charity Football Foundation.
What are these hubs and zones? All three projects are still in the early stages so details are currently thin on the ground, particularly when it comes to the plans for the leisure centres.
The Hillsborough Park activity hub will replace the park’s current multi-use games area, largely used for football and basketball. The council’s plan is to create three new tennis courts; a new, significantly smaller multi-use games area; space for other activities like mini-golf, which residents will have to pay to use; and refreshments and toilets. The space will then be run by an external company, renting it from the council on a 25-year lease.
PlayZones are a new nationwide scheme by the Football Foundation and, so far, none exist in the UK. However, the sales pitch is that they are “safe, inclusive, and accessible outdoor sports facilities” — mostly for football but also for “a range of sports dependent on local demand” — which are fully-fenced, lit and lockable.
Who could object to that? Well, the Friends of Hillsborough Park are furious at what they see as the “commercialisation of a public park”, since a free-to-use games area will be cut down to a third of its current size to make way for new paid-for activities. The group also suspects the revamp is partly motivated by the council seeking to make it easier for the Tramlines music festival to move equipment in and out of the park. Similarly, residents consulted on the idea of a PlayZone replacing a games area in their local park were frequently “unsupportive of a lockable and bookable facility” as “there is a feeling this would take a facility away from residents, who would otherwise have free access”.
So why bother? Projects like these allow the council to attract external funding to spend on improving run-down facilities which it otherwise couldn’t afford to do anything with. Football Foundation will provide the majority of financial backing for each PlayZone and the Hillsborough Hub received funding from the Lawn Tennis Association and Sport England. The council is also banking on income from the hub funding improvements to tennis courts in eight other parks.
Bottom line: Public sports facilities provide significant benefits for the communities that use them but often cost more to maintain than they earn in income. The council’s approach to solving that problem appears to be two-fold. On the one hand, they’re hoping a revamp of their leisure centres and other venues will attract more events like the filming of Gladiators, which will pay for the use of the space. On the other hand, they’re introducing more sports facilities that residents will have to pay to use, alongside some free activities, creating new sources of income.
Like the plans? Hate the plans? Give us your take in the comments (members only).
Home of the week 🏡
We couldn’t resist the spacious living room on this two-bed duplex flat above a shop on Ecclesall Road. It’s a great area for going out and is on the market for around £175,000.
Our media picks 🎧
What went wrong for Sheffield's ghost cafe? 👻 In the summer of 2019, a cafe and bar overlooking the city centre’s Grey to Green site was ready to open its doors. In fact, the inside of 2 Rivers is so “immaculate” that “you'd be forgiven for thinking it was already open”, except for the fact it’s entirely empty. Now Then magazine looks into what happened and what cases like this mean for the city centre as a whole.
My seven years reporting on Sheffield’s tree scandal 🌳 We couldn’t resist one more story on Sheffield’s world-famous scandal (we have it on good authority that people as far away as India have heard about it). Chris Burn from The Yorkshire Post covered the story from the very start and wrote a fantastic write-up for the Sunday Times. He said he was “surprised by the strength of the apology,” issued by the council — although not everyone agrees — and considers the saga a parable on “the abuse of democratic power” and “the importance of listening to local people brave enough to challenge it”.
The social experiment: Our student life in the pandemic 🎓 Our sister publication The Mill has published a fascinating piece about studying during Covid, as told by three University of Manchester students. Lockdown restrictions quickly turned university life into a bizarre “social experiment”, with young people forced to find unconventional — or illegal — ways of having fun. Secretive flat parties and, as lockdown eased, a limit of six people on gathering “significantly raised the stakes of social exclusion”, while dating became “the absolute pits”.
Things to do 📆
Draw ✏️ Tonight, Meersbrook cafe Kopi and Chai are hosting a two-hour life drawing session, where the model will be surrounded by plants. The session is not tutored, although you can ask for advice during the break, and all materials are supplied. Tickets are available here for £11.55 and the event will start at 7pm.
Listen 🎤 On Wednesday evening, as part of Bradfield Festival of Music, Armonico Consort Soloists will perform a programme of classical music inspired by the sun, moon, planets and stars. Expect works from Renaissance and Romantic era composers by four talented singers, accompanied by bass and piano. The concert at St Nicholas' Church starts at 7.30pm and tickets are £20.
Look 👀 We don’t normally include weekend events in our Monday briefings but Sunday’s street art tour of Kelham Island and Neepsend is likely to have sold out by later in the week, judging by past events. For £7.50, you’ll spend one or two hours with an expert on Sheffield’s street art, focusing on an area recently pipped as one of the coolest neighbourhoods to live in the UK. The tour starts at 11am and you can expect lots of great photo opportunities.