10/12/2021 Heritage activities bring people and animals together at Heeley City Farm

Heritage activities bring people and animals together at Heeley City Farm

Excavations, oral history and making replica pottery are just some of the activities enjoyed by people at this community hub in South Yorkshire

Heeley City Farm has been successfully delivering community heritage work across Sheffield and beyond since 2008. This is a friendly farm and environmental visitor centre in Heeley, in the heart of South Yorkshire. It’s a place where children and adults can come and meet friendly animals, enjoy fresh, home cooked meals in the café or stock up on plants from the peat-free garden centre. There are lots of events and activities in support of the local people’s wellbeing and health – from support groups for dementia patients’ carers, to volunteer gardening and food growing sessions to community history and heritage projects. 

For the last 13 years (out of the farm’s 40 year existence), the heritage department enthusiasts have worked with thousands of people, including many volunteers, work placements and general participants of all ages. They have excavated, made art, built roundhouses, transcribed long lost medieval documents, recorded and shared people’s memories, processed archaeological finds, given talks, led walks, made replica pottery, built museum displays, and worked in schools, universities and local history clubs. 

Some of the highlights along the way include the heritage department of Heeley City Farm running two very successful Heritage Lottery funded projects ‘Exploring Tinsley Manor’ (2012-2015) and ‘Tinsley Time and Travel’ (2015-2018). These focused on Tinsley, now a post-industrial suburb on the northern edge of Sheffield, and explored how the themes of transport, travel and change have shaped the community since its pre-history. The aim of the project was to engage residents and the wider community in a broader understanding of Tinsley’s heritage of transition and resilience. 

Community hub  

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the work of the charity severely, but also mobilised them to play an important part in Sheffield’s voluntary sector response during lockdown. The farm became a community hub in the local network, despite the big changes this required to their normal way of working. It also motivated them to apply and win a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant of £15,500 to employ a Heritage and Wellbeing Officer and explore new delivery models (including social prescribing). The funding enabled them to improve their digital offer and reach more people, addressing loneliness and social isolation in vulnerable groups such as older residents. 

In the summer of 2021, Heeley City Farm carried out their ‘Healthy Holidays’ scheme, a programme of summer holiday activities, targeted at the recipients of free school meals. They delivered three workshops – one dedicated to the history of their site, ‘Hidden Houses’, one on ceramics, pottery and clay, and one on animal bones (and sheep!) called ‘Everything Sheep’. They were great fun and enjoyed by all participants. 

For Heritage Open Days this year they presented some of their community archive in the People’s Museum of Heeley. Over 180 people visited the pop-up museum in their small cabin office. 

Currently, Heeley City Farm’s heritage department, led by the Community Heritage Manager Sally Rodgers, are preparing another NLHF application for a new project called “Heeley Heritage Hub”. This will aim to engage under-represented groups and provide opportunities for all the local people to engage with their local heritage and history to improve their health and wellbeing, including through social prescribing. It is a brilliant way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the farm and to build on the learning  from supporting the community in the months of the pandemic. 

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