#ProjectSwish: Sheffield's court guardian

Sheffield’s outdoor basketball community calls him ‘Caretaker Saaid’ - and whilst it’s a moniker that he doesn’t mind, Saaid Paymanfar is much more than a sweeper of mud, dust and leaves.

The level two basketball coach has been keeping the outdoor courts of the Steel City – notably Duchess Road and Millhouses Park – clean, tidy and playable since 2019, even replacing the nets during COVID-19 out of his own pocket.

Fortunately, Paymanfar was introduced to Basketball England’s #ProjectSwish campaign, which he calls a ‘dream’, after meeting BE’s Head of Participation Pete Griffiths, and switched to ordering free nets for both courts from the campaign website.

#ProjectSwish aims to improve outdoor basketball courts across England and has roots in Sheffield, successfully refurbishing Millhouses Park in August 2017, and working with Sheffield City Council in 2019 to renovate Duchess Road from a dank and dingy outdoor basketball space into a vibrant court with the distinctive #ProjectSwish colourway, complete with new backboards. This summer, Duchess Road also got brand new #ProjectSwish backboard inserts.

Paymanfar says the difference #ProjectSwish made meant players from Stoke, Nottingham, Castleford, Leeds, Halifax and elsewhere would head  to Sheffield because they didn’t have a decent outdoor basketball court to play on.

“I now have a WhatsApp group with over 40 outdoor basketball players from all over England and internationally,” said the 48-year-old.

“Some Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, 70 people come down to play on Duchess, keeping out trouble and building good relationships between people of different nationalities.

“#ProjectSwish helped us have such a nice basketball court and I don’t want it to get ruined. That's why it’s my responsibility on the weekend to go around and keep it clean and make sure there are nets because as a player you don’t enjoy playing as much on net-less rims.”

Saaid Paymanfar

These basketball courts are like a Mecca

Originally from Iran, Paymanfar was introduced to basketball by his mother and he has passed his love of the game down to his son, Dominic, who plays basketball for Sheffield Elite Basketball Academy.

In the battle against rising indoor facility costs, the tightening of family purse strings and the great British weather, Paymanfar says the motivation for his selfless work is to keep young people playing basketball, help them improve to a high level and never let the city council think they are not being used.

“If we didn't have Millhouses Park or Duchess Road my son wouldn't be at the level of basketball he is now,” said Paymanfar, who works as an electrician.

“During the summer he and his friends would train there from dawn to dusk. That's why it’s so important to keep them clean because these basketball courts are like a church, like a Mecca. It keeps young people out of trouble, and they make great friendships.

“They call me Caretaker Saaid, but I don't mind, I just don’t want the council to come around and think [this court] isn’t being looked after properly and they shut it down. It's so good honestly, it just helps. It helps basketball in Sheffield a lot.”