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Young people to explore Sheffield’s creative past at hidden heritage gem

Wardsend Cemetery was neglected for a long time. Now, young people are encouraged to visit the site and uncover the lives of the creative people laid to rest there.

Numerous old gravestones surrounded by green trees.

Wardsend Cemetery

Liam Rimmington

Wardsend Cemetery is the final resting place of nearly 30,000 people from Sheffield, many of whom were working class. The Young Creators, a group of 18-25 year olds taking part in Heritage Open Days New Wave programme, have spent time in Sheffield Archives uncovering stories that have captured their attention.

Exploring individuals interred at Wardsend, two particular stories came to light: William Furniss - a highly skilled photographer who captured many Sheffield scenes and Kate Townsend - a circus performer. These forgotten stories will form part of the group's upcoming event ‘Stories from the soil’.

Four young people standing in front of a fence in front of greenery.

Mikey, Amelia, Eve and Frankie from the Heritage Open Days New Wave programme

Meghan Tipping

Understanding our heritage enables us to connect with the local area we live in and those who lived there before, which shapes our perspective of today. Young people are actively campaigning for our future and to help them do so, they have been delving into our past to help us all to go on a journey of learning and unlearning.

We have witnessed country houses uncovering their colonial links and reinterpreting the way they convey their story. The removal of statues has made us think about how we decolonise Britain’s past. And there are now more innovative approaches to telling stories helping to keep our history relevant to everyone.

Intricate stone carving at Wardsend Cemetery

Intricate stone carving at Wardsend Cemetery

Neil Theasby / Geograph Britain and Ireland

Heritage Open Days is England's largest community-led festival of history and culture, involving thousands of local volunteers and organisations, bringing people together to celebrate their heritage, community and history.

With only 2% of 16–24-year-olds engaging with Heritage Open Days in the last 4 years, the New Wave programme, which takes a small group of young people through a structured programme to develop new, innovative Heritage Open Days events, seeks to push the boundaries of what people expect of the festival.

The Young Creators have embarked on this programme to challenge perceptions about heritage in the city through a brand-new event at Wardsend Cemetery Heritage Park. The event, ‘Stories from the Soil’, encourages young people to visit one of Sheffield’s hidden heritage gems - a unique Victorian cemetery – to experience the site and uncover the lives of the creative people laid to rest there.

An area covered in greenery with a clearing in the middle distance.

Wardsend Cemetery old chapel site

Liam Rimmington

Mikey Pugh, a Sheffield Hallam University student who has been taking part, said, “Opportunities for young people have been seriously constricted recently, so for me, this event is a way to bring together young people in finding a new interest or hobby. We have art, heritage, conservation and much more all in one place, so hopefully a community of young people can find inspiration and collaborators for their interests.”

As an educator, facilitating spaces where young people can connect with their heritage in new ways is something I am very passionate about. I saw the potential for authentic educational experiences at Wardsend so I joined the Friends of Wardsend Cemetery in 2022. I recognised the value of the New Wave programme because, when it comes to careers, heritage can be a notoriously difficult sector for young people to get into. This project is not only helping the Young Creators build valuable skills and experience in the sector, it has sparked a passion for heritage that will hopefully take root.

I would like to encourage people to visit the undiscovered sites around their local area, specifically young people who don't typically go there.

Eve Horner
Gravestones overgrown with greenery.

Wardsend Cemetery

Mick Knapton

Francesca Keane, a University of Sheffield student, hopes that other young people will come to the event so that they can “see that Heritage sites are anything but boring!” while Amelia Spanton, student from the University of York, has found the New Wave programme to be “a great chance for us to cultivate skills and experience in the heritage sector”.

Heritage sites are typically associated with the older generation however organisations are now beginning to recognise that the perspective of people aged 18-25 is essential to developing a community of reciprocal knowledge.

When a more diverse range of people is invested in history and the heritage of their local area, a sense of community and connection can be established for the benefit of all.

Learn more

Due to steps, steep paths and uneven terrain access to many Wardsend Cemetery events are not suitable for people with mobility difficulties. Friends of Wardsend Cemetery hope to change accessibility to the site in the near future.

  • Saturday 16 September, between 10am – 2pm, Young Creators will be welcoming visitors to Wardsend Cemetery as part of Heritage Open Days

  • Outdoor exhibition boards will be located within the Cemetery and visitors can take part in creative activities as well as explore the ‘stories from the soil’

  • A drop-in cyanotype workshop with Carousel Print Studios, will be running on the old chapel site from 11am - 1pm

by Meghan Tipping (she/her)
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