None of us could have predicted how 2020 would pan out and, when the UK government announced a national lockdown at the end of March, we had no idea that this was going to have such a long term impact.
Here at the Steel Valley Project, it meant volunteer activities being suspended, day to day operations ceasing and all our staff being put on furlough. This continued through to June, when our office staff returned to work (from home) and operational staff began working on projects which they could carry out alone, without their normal team of volunteers.
Returning to work from furlough
With the move to home working, we had a steep learning curve when it came to moving all our office processes to a paperless online system. However, we’re pretty much in the swing of things now and all keep in touch regularly by phone, email and zoom video calling.
On the operational side, our first job was to clear 3 months worth of vegetation from the local paths and bridleways. Anyone following our social media (links below) during the summer months will have seen some pretty dramatic before and after images!
Our staff team also repaired steps on Liberty Steel land (the Steel Valley Walk) and in Fox Glen, Pot House Wood and Glen Howe Park. This year, more than ever, we’ve had an important role in helping to keep public rights of way clear and safe to use.
Along with work on the local path network, we’ve also spent time in Bitholmes Wood, helping to keep invasive species such as Himalayan Balsam and Japanese Knotweed under control. We also replaced some decking in Firth Park and spent a day processing firewood so that we could keep our customers warm this winter!
However, the highlight of the last few months must have been the day when we were able to welcome a few of our volunteers back for a socially distanced day working on Bitholmes Meadow. Our plan was to introduce more days like that but, unfortunately, new restrictions for Sheffield followed by another national lockdown have so far prevented it from happening.
Free walking and cycling routes
One of the Steel Valley Project’s objectives is to “encourage access to open green space and the wider countryside”. We have a series of walks on our website which help people explore the north Sheffield countryside and these have been even more popular this year due to the Covid-19 restrictions. Stocksbridge and Bradfield Walkers are Welcome have also published some inclusive routes in the area which are accessible to wheelchair users and families with buggies.
The pandemic saw an increase in cyclists this year, with bike shops now reporting a global shortage of bikes. In response, we developed a project (supported by National Lottery players through the Heritage Fund and the Sheffield Lakeland Landscape Partnership) to create a series of 5 cycle routes located around the urban edges of the Sheffield Lakeland area.
The routes vary in length from 5 to 14 miles and are aimed at those new or returning to cycling, or those just wanting to explore the local area. We published them at the end of November and Trek Sheffield Fox Valley have added their support, giving a free t-shirt to anyone riding all 5 before 24th April 2021 (terms and conditions apply).
Enjoying the countryside
One impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is that our outdoor spaces have become busy places! It’s fantastic to see more people enjoying our green spaces and great for our mental health. However, it does bring extra challenges with car parking, dog fouling, litter and poor social distancing. These become bigger issues in popular outdoor areas, so it makes sense to relieve the pressure and check out some of the lesser known areas found on our walks and cycle routes instead.
Here are a few more ways you can help:
- If your chosen parking spot is full, be flexible and look for another location to prevent blocking access to gates or making it difficult for emergency vehicles to pass.
- Aim to keep 2m apart when passing other people and stay considerate and friendly
- Take a bag to carry your litter home and dispose of it there
- Pick up after dogs and dispose of it in a designated bin
Upcoming projects for our operational team include woodland thinning at Bitholmes Wood, creating a new garden at Christ Church in Stocksbridge and planting native bulbs and wildflowers at Firth Park.
It’s fair to say that we’ve missed our volunteers this year and it will be strange not to have our annual Christmas walk with everyone. We’ve also had lots of new volunteer enquiries over the last 6 months and it will be great when we can finally meet those people. However, our main concern is that we do everything possible to ensure the safety of our staff and volunteer teams. We therefore plan to introduce occasional socially distanced volunteer days when the local tier restriction has been reduced.
We’re hoping that 2021 will see a return to more normal working arrangements. You can support the work we do in the north Sheffield area by donating here (contact us if it’s for a Christmas gift and you’d like an acknowledgement).
Social media links: