Sheffield’s General Cemetery has been awarded more than £3 million pounds of National Lottery funding, following a successful bid by Sheffield City Council for plans to complete major restoration and improvement work at the site.

The funding, raised by National Lottery players and awarded jointly by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Big Lottery Fund, aims to conserve the heritage and improve facilities and access to create a safe and welcoming public park for the local community.

The project is planned to start later in 2018 and will run up to Winter 2022.

This week’s announcement is part of £6.2million of funding awarded to three cemeteries across the UK. Sheffield City Council’s Parks and Countryside service received stage one development funding of £429,000 to progress their plans for the cemetery two years ago, and then applied for the full grant earlier this year.

The project aims to carry out essential conservation work to protect the heritage infrastructure, transforming the site into a well-used heritage and wildlife park that will be enjoyed and explored by people of all ages and interests.

During the project a range of community activities and events will take place giving people the opportunity to become involved and learn more about the historic importance of this site. A programme of education and training activities will be offered for all ages and abilities at different stages of the project. Importantly, support will be provided for volunteers so that they can continue to help manage the park and its heritage into the future.

Councillor Mary Lea, Cabinet Member for Culture, Parks and Leisure at Sheffield City Council, said:

“This announcement is fantastic news for Sheffield and this wonderful historic site. After the hard work we put in to the development plans, I’m delighted that this important project has been recognised by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Big Lottery Fund and National Lottery Players, and to have their support in bringing our plans to life.

“The General Cemetery is one of Sheffield’s hidden gems but maintaining the site has presented many challenges due to the cemetery’s age and unique structure. I’d like to thank the volunteers who’ve supported this work from the Friends of the General Cemetery and Sheffield General Cemetery Trust, whose efforts have been invaluable and to reassure people that we will continue to work with all interested parties and the local community as the scheme progresses.

“Located just ten minutes from our city centre, the General Cemetery is valued for its unique historic character, abundance of plants and wildlife and links to the Peak District. This investment means we can now realise the true potential that lies within this beautiful, historic park for current and future generations.”

The General Cemetery has been in decline in recent years and is currently listed on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register.

This new project will repair the historic Egyptian Gateway, catacombs, Dissenters Wall and other key monuments and memorials. It will improve access and pathways around the site, the history of the site will be better interpreted and shared, and the landscaping will be restored.

The Sheffield General Cemetery opened in 1836 as a response to overcrowding and poor conditions in Sheffield’s churchyards. It was one of the earliest commercial cemeteries of its kind in the UK, conceived at a time when Sheffield was at the cutting-edge of cultural reform and technical innovation.

On behalf of the HLF and Big Lottery Fund, Ros Kerslake, Chief Executive of HLF, said:

“Historic cemeteries reveal much of the past but their true value to local communities and wildlife is firmly in the here and now. This is a pioneering project that, with National Lottery investment, will help people to understand, tap into and enjoy the many benefits these community greenspaces provide.”

The Grade II* registered park is one of the city’s finest historical assets and is home to 10 listed structures/buildings including catacombs, monuments, gateways, the Non-Conformist Chapel, the Anglican Chapel and the Gatehouse lodge.

The cemetery charts the fascinating history of the city’s growth, through those who are buried there, such as Mark Firth (1880) the highly successful Sheffield Industrialist, benefactor of Firth Park and founder of The University of Sheffield; George Bassett (1886) founder of Bassett’s Sweets; and the Cole Brothers, owners of the well-known Sheffield store. Several members of the world’s first football club, Sheffield FC are also buried there including William Prest co-writer of the first rule book, his funeral procession in 1885 saw the roads lined with several thousand mourners.

Cllr Lea added:

“Whether you enjoy a gentle stroll, a picnic, bird spotting, a history tour, a lunchtime run or ride out to the Peaks, our plans for Sheffield General Cemetery Community Park will make it an even more popular attraction that is accessible to all and can be enjoyed for centuries to come.”

The Sheffield General Cemetery is bordered by Cemetery Road, Montague Street, Stalker Walk and the Porter Brook, it is open to the public at all times.