Fulwood - a visit to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's South Yorkshire constituency

PUBLISHED: 14:26 09 November 2011 | UPDATED: 20:15 20 February 2013

Arthur Hunter walking his dogs Jack and Meg at Forge Dam on an unseasonably warm autumn day

Arthur Hunter walking his dogs Jack and Meg at Forge Dam on an unseasonably warm autumn day

Jo Haywood finds out why the people of Fulwood think their village is dam fine Photographs by Elizabeth Savage

Fulwood is one of the most prosperous areas of Sheffield, boasting a buoyant community and a beautiful setting on the western edge of the city where it borders the Peak District National Park.

It was promoted as a spa in the 17th century before being developed as a residential area in the late Victorian era. And water has continued to play an important part in its identity in the guise of Forge Dam, part of a parkland oasis on the edge of the village.

The dam was historically important to the local economy as one of a series of mill ponds on the Porter Brook used industrially in the production of iron goods. At one time, it was so fecund with water that visitors could row across it. Today it is pretty much unnavigable, but retains its popularity as a peaceful spot for Fulwoods residents to meet, relax, walk, potter and feed the ever-hungry ducks.

Visitor numbers could soon be boosted, however, as Sheffield City Council has a raft of improvement ideas for the dam and the surrounding area. This comes after thousands of people from across the city signed a petition in the Forge Dam Cafe demanding there be greater investment.

The cafe itself has already undergone an 80,000 repair and refurbishment programme, making it a popular destination for walkers and duck-feeders. The playground has also been spruced up, benches repaired and litter removed.

But more radical revitalisation could be on its way. A major improvement programme has been drawn up, including desilting the dam, beautifying the surrounding area and introducing new family play facilities. But and its a major but the work would cost somewhere in the region of 1 million.

This is a major project and a serious amount of money, said David Cooper, head of policy and projects at Sheffield City Council. Funding will be a challenge to say the least, but people are passionate about Forge Dam and we have to consider that when coming to any decisions.

David Hargate, head of parks at the council, was quick to point out the importance of Forge Dam as a stopping-off point on the citys popular 15-mile Round Walk.

It attracts a lot of visitors, he said. We promote ourselves as the greenest city in England as we have a significant amount of public green space. The rivers and valley like the Porter Valley where Forge Dam is are an important part of our green heritage. They are something the city is very proud of and we work hard to maintain them for future generations.

But Fulwood is not all about Forge Dam. Its wealthy beginnings are still reflected in some of its buildings today. Amongst the most interesting are Fulwood Hall, built in 1620, and the Old Chapel, where the village stocks still have pride of place (perhaps in case local MP Nick Clegg steps out of line).

The church was built in 1728 on a pleasant green on the edge of the village as a meeting place for those who felt overwhelmed by the restrictions of the Church of England but still wanted to worship. Its now a popular place for weddings and not just because it sits opposite the entrance to Forge Dam with its numerous and attractive photographic locations.

Naomi Crowder is one of the many Fulwood folk who make the most of these picturesque surroundings, although shes probably the only one who would ever consider actually swimming in the mill pond.

She is, not to over-state her abilities, the fittest fiddle in the village and a daring swimmer to boot. At 75, when most peoples idea of strenuous exercise is ringing the bell on the bus, she has just taken part in the Great North Swim around Lake Windermere.

I swam as a child but hadnt really kept it up, she explained. But when I went to New Zealand to visit my daughter Rachel for my 70th birthday I found shed entered us both in the Masters Games swimming race.
I had to buy a swimming costume a bit sharpish. But I was glad I did because, although I was scared, I was also very excited, especially when I came away with a medal.

Naomi has since taken part in several Masters, has completed the Great London Swim and has even had a quick dip in the Arctic off a Nordic icebreaker.

I just did a few strokes before they pulled me out and gave me a vodka,
she said.

On the day we spoke, she was heading off for a swim with friends in Wastwater, Cumbria (itll be about 12 degrees) and had just booked a multi-activity holiday in Costa Rica (I cant wait to go white water rafting), but she had even bigger news to share.

Ive been accepted as a volunteer at next years Olympics, said Naomi. Two hundred and fifty thousand people applied and they chose me.

Cleggs country

Fulwoods MP is deputy prime minister Nick Clegg; a fact that is almost universally greeted in the area with a double eyebrow raise and a polite: He seems all right but we dont see much of him.

So, heres a quick biographical update for those who need a reminder: Nick Clegg and his Spanish wife Miriam, a partner in an international law firm, have three young sons, Antonio, Alberto and Miguel, and divide their time between their London and Sheffield homes.

He grew up in Oxfordshire with two brothers and a sister. His mother is Dutch and his father half Russian, which probably explains why he later learned to speak Dutch, French, German and Spanish.

Clegg studied social anthropology at Cambridge before continuing his post-grad studies at the University of Minnesota and the College of Europe in Bruges.

He worked as a trainee journalist with Christopher Hitchens in New York and travelled to Budapest to write about economic reform. He then moved to Brussels for five years to work for the European Commission.

He was elected as MEP for the East Midlands in 1999, but found the travelling difficult to reconcile with a young family and stepped down in 2004.

Clegg was elected MP for Sheffield Hallam in 2005, became the Liberal Democrats Europe spokesman under Charles Kennedy, acted as deputy to Menzies Campbell and was elected leader of the party in December 2007.

The print version of this article appeared in the November 2011 issue of Yorkshire Life

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