Park gates close on 40 years of service

Head of Parks at Sheffield City Council David Hargate is retiring after starting as an apprentice gardener in 1971.
Head of Parks at Sheffield City Council David Hargate is retiring after starting as an apprentice gardener in 1971.
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HE HAS got a self-confessed “lifelong love of the Botanical Gardens” – which is perhaps only fitting, as he began working there at the tender age of 16.

But for David Hargate, Sheffield City Council’s head of parks and public realm, the gardens will now be strictly for pleasure, rather than work, as he retires after more than 40 years’ service.

To mark his last week, Mr Hargate planted a cherry tree in Meersbrook Park, where the council’s parks department is based, before enjoying a final get-together in the Botanical Gardens, the very place where he began work all those years ago.

“I never really intended to go into working in parks”, he said.

“I grew up on the Manor estate and was due to start an engineering apprenticeship in the steel industry, where my dad also worked as an engineer.

“However, that year they decided not to take any apprentices on. That’s when my father pointed me in the direction of parks.

“I’d not had any interest in gardening before then, but I loved nature, birds, fishing, all things outdoors really.

“You could always find me with a mucky face and mucky hands from playing out in High Hazels Park and the local woods. So that’s how I ended up working for the council.”

Mr Hargate’s three-year apprenticeship began in 1971, based at the Grade II-listed Botanical Gardens, off Clarkehouse Road.

He completed a horticultural qualification at Askham Bryan College, in York, before rising through the ranks quickly, becoming a manager when he was just 23.

In his 37 years of management at Sheffield City Council, he has worked alongside colleagues to deliver major projects including the restoration of Weston Park, Norfolk Heritage Park and the Botanical Gardens, as well as enjoying some of the major events which have come to the city.

Mr Hargate said: “Seeing the parks develop has been a real highlight of my career.

“And what I’ve been satisfied with during the latter years of my career is steering the parks through some of the deepest cuts we’ve seen, yet seeing the staff remaining so passionate and resolute about what we do.

“I really hope that there are sufficient funds in the future to sustain the magnificent range of parks that we’ve got, and that we can continue to restore this glorious heritage that we have here in Sheffield.

“I also hope that we can encourage young people into the parks service, through apprenticeships. I’ve been so lucky to get where I am.

“Due to the quality of the apprenticeship programme, I came to Sheffield City Council not knowing a great deal, but I was pointed in the right direction and got the very best training.

“Parks help define Sheffield’s image nationally and internationally, and visitors always comment about how green the city is.

“I’ve always enjoyed working for the parks and countryside service, and I’ve been fortunate enough to lead a great team of people, which has made the job that much better.”