Grandma Betty – a woman of inspiration

Betty Smalley with friends in the Tea Tent
Betty Smalley with friends in the Tea Tent
Betty Smalley
Betty Smalley

Story by Steve Cooke | Photos courtesy of Hannah Isherwood

Betty Smalley was a committed socialist and a fighter for social justice, as well as a community activist and a dear friend to many people.

A child during the Second World War, Betty remembered the Sheffield blitz and later saw the introduction of the National Health Service and the welfare state while working at the Co-op Opticians.

In the sixties and early seventies, she was an active member of the Trinity Methodist Church in Page Hall and a leader of the church Youth Club. She performed regularly on stage with Southey Operatic Society and became involved in a group declaring independence for Fir Vale, as part of a successful campaign to stop the construction of a dual carriageway.

Once Betty voted for the Liberal Party, the only party to protest against the council’s plan to demolish Victorian housing in the Abbeyfield Park area. Otherwise she was staunch Labour.

Jacaranda tree
Jacaranda tree planted in Chile on the day of Betty’s funeral in memory of ‘Grandma Betty’

In the late seventies she joined SAVTE, the Sheffield Association for the Voluntary Teaching of English, which provided English tuition for speakers of other languages, and made lifelong friendships with members of the Chilean refugee community. A Jacaranda tree (pictured) was planted in Chile on the day of her funeral in memory of ‘Grandma Betty’.

Betty was a member of the Grimesthorpe Anti-Nuclear Group which was affiliated to CND, and she joined demonstrations at Greenham Common, Molesworth, Fylingdales and Menwith Hill, all American bases. She also dressed in white and made paper cranes to hang in the trees in the Peace Gardens and Firth Park.

In 1982 Betty joined Green City Action (GCA) and continued to be a Director for the rest of her life, attending meetings until the end of last year.

In the early 1990s Betty became more active with the Burngreave Community Action Forum and the arrival of New Deal for Communities funding. It was at this time that the annual Burngreave Festival started, and Betty’s Tea Tent appeared, to raise monies for GCA.

Betty Smalley with friends in the Tea Tent
Betty Smalley with friends in the Tea Tent

When the Friends of Firth Park was established Betty was a founding member. Her famous Tea Tent started to appear at the annual Summer Festival in Firth Park, with the money raised going to the festival itself.

In 1993 Betty joined the 40s to 60s group in the old clock tower. The group is still exists but is now more 70s to 90s! When Burngreave New Deal closed down GCA extended its reach to Firth Park and Betty was actively involved in the management committee of the Hope allotment on Windmill Lane. In the late 90s Betty began to practice Tai Chi, continuing till last year when she became too frail.

She campaigned to have the Firth Park Clock Tower restored, after an arson attack in the 1990s and has been a key member of the Friends of Burngreave Cemetery and Chapel, transcribing burial records for internet access.

In 2007, Betty was honoured with the title “Sheffield’s Woman of Inspiration”. A very apt description of her, an inspiration to us all over many decades.

The Friends of Firth Park are organising a small celebration of Betty’s life on Mayday, Monday 6th May in the pavilion near to the Bowling Green in Firth Park.

There will be tea and cakes for sale and photos of Betty and people can come along to share their memories.

Betty leaves a daughter Alex, a son Peter, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.